The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan was fighting for his job Tuesday after being summoned to Washington to explain a magazine profile that included derogatory comments about President Barack Obama and his colleagues.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal apologized Tuesday for using "poor judgment" in interviews for a Rolling Stone magazine profile that paints him as deeply disconnected and displeased with the Obama administration.
At White House briefing Tuesday, press secretary Robert Gibbs told CBS News correspondent Chip Reid thatregarding McChrystal's future. Gibbs said Mr. Obama was "angry" about the McChrystal's conduct in the article.
A top military official in Afghanistan told The Associated Press that McChrystal hasn't been told whether he will be allowed to keep his job. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions between Washington and the general's office in Kabul.
Gates released a statement Tuesday saying McChrystal "made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment" and adding, "Going forward, we must pursue this mission with a unity of purpose."
And David Obey, the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee,, saying, "If he actually said half of what is being reported, he shouldn't be in the position he is in."
"We have seen a long list of reckless, renegade generals who haven't seemed to understand that their role is to implement policy, not design it," Obey said in a harsh but somewhat lyrical statement. "General McChrystal's comments are not the first time we've seen a General contemptuous of his civilian superiors. It isn't even the first time we've seen this General be contemptuous. But his comments, and those of his subordinates … suggests that General McChrystal is locked into an 'everybody is wrong but me' approach to the world."
"I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened," McChrystal said in a statement Tuesday, adding that he remains "committed to ensuring" the successful outcome of the almost nine-year-old Afghan war.
Many of the gibes in the Rolling Stone article come from members of McChrystal's staff and not from the general himself, and many are too profane to reprint - one calls a meeting with a French minister "[expletive] gay."
But McChrystal is described as having been "disappointed" after his first meeting with Mr. Obama. He complains about receiving "another e-mail" from Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And he is quoted saying that Vice President Joe Biden's counterinsurgency strategy would lead to "Chaos-istan," jokingly planning to dismiss questions about it by saying "Vice President Biden? Who's that?"
McChrystal has been ordered to appear at tomorrow's monthly White House meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in person rather than by the usual teleconference, an administration official told CBS Radio News White House correspondent Peter Maer early Tuesday.
The official said McChrystal "will have to explain to the Pentagon and the Commander in Chief his quotes in the piece about his colleagues."
A spokesman for McChrystal told CBS News chief political consultant Marc Ambinder that the commander decided to fly to Washington to meet his bosses of his own volition -- that he was not "ordered" to do so.
Either way, a NATO official in the Afghan capital told CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark that Gen. McChrystal left the country Tuesday morning.
McChrystal called Biden Tuesday to apologize, CBS News has learned. A band of McChrystal's irreverent aides are quoted in the article mocking Biden and Holbrooke, among others. (Speaking from Afghanistan Tuesday, the article's author, Michael Hastings, told CNN, "It was all very clear it was on the record.")
At an unrelated event Tuesday, Biden declined to comment on the situation, saying, "We'll have plenty of time to talk about Afghanistan."
McChrystal spent Tuesday calling others mentioned in the article to apologize as well, officials said. Among those was Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Pakistan. It was not clear whether the general had spoken directly to Obama.
Holbrooke's office said in a terse two-line statement that McCrystal had called him in Kabul "to apologize for this story and accept full responsibility for it." It said Holbrooke "values his close and productive relationship with General McChrystal."
In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai. Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said Karzai hopes that Obama doesn't decide to replace him.
Obama has the authority to fire McChrystal. His predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, was sacked on grounds that the military needed "new thinking and new approaches" in Afghanistan.
More on the McChrystal controversy:
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen has told McChrystal of his "deep disappointment" over the article, a spokesman said.
The article in this week's Rolling Stone depicts McChrystal as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to persuade even some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the war.
"I found that time painful," McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. "I was selling an unsellable position."
Obama agreed to dispatch an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan only after months of study that many in the military found frustrating. And the White House's troop commitment was coupled with a pledge to begin bringing them home in July 2011, in what counterinsurgency strategists advising McChrystal regarded as an arbitrary deadline.
Mullen talked with McChrystal about the article Monday night, Capt. John Kirby, Mullen's spokesman said. In a 10-minute conversation, the chairman "expressed his deep disappointment in the piece and the comments" in it, Kirby said.
The White House said it planned to release a full list of attendees at Wednesday's meeting. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are among those who regularly attend the Situation Room meetings in person, with McChrystal and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry participating via secure video teleconference.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for all involved to "stay cool and calm" and not the let situation interfere with the mission in Afghanistan.
He said he had "enormous respect" for the general and had spoken to McChrystal on Tuesday morning and "emphasized to him that I think, obviously, those are comments that he is going to have to deal with with respect to the commander in chief, the vice president and his national security staff."
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.,saying, "We have the highest respect for General McChrystal and honor his brave service and sacrifice to our nation," but that the comments were inappropriate and "the decision concerning General McChrystal's future is a decision to be made by the President of the United States."
The Rolling Stone profile, titled "The Runaway General," emerged from several weeks of interviews and travel with McChrystal's tight circle of aides this spring.
The irony, says Ambinder, is that McChrystal needs the full support of President Obama to win the war, as much as Mr. Obama needs McChrystal on his side to achieve one of his biggest foreign policy goals.
Duncan Boothby, a special assistant to McChrystal, who set up Rolling Stone's interviews with the commander, submitted his resignation on Tuesday to his superiors in the public affairs office at NATO headquarters in Kabul, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity because it involved a personnel matter.
The official said that Boothby was a civilian who was contracted to work in the public affairs section.
In the interview, McChrystal he said he felt betrayed by Eikenberry, the man the White House chose to be his diplomatic partner. If Eikenberry had the same doubts, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.
McChrystal accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.
"Here's one that covers his flank for the history books," McChrystal told the magazine. "Now, if we fail, they can say 'I told you so."'
Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Kabul, said Eikenberry and McChrystal "are fully committed to the president's strategy and to working together as one civilian-military team."
McChrystal has a history of drawing criticism, despite his military achievements.
In June 2006 President George W. Bush congratulated McChrystal for his role in the operation that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. As head of the special operations command, McChrystal's forces included the Army's clandestine counterterrorism unit, Delta Force.
He drew criticism for his role in the military's handling of the friendly fire shooting of Army Ranger Pat Tillman - a former NFL star - in Afghanistan. An investigation at the time found that McChrystal was "accountable for the inaccurate and misleading assertions" contained in papers recommending that Tillman get a Silver Star award.
McChrystal acknowledged he had suspected several days before approving the Silver Star citation that Tillman might have died by fratricide, rather than enemy fire. He sent a memo to military leaders warning them of that, even as they were approving Tillman's Silver Star. Still, he told investigators he believed Tillman deserved the award.
This week's development comes as criminal investigators are said to be examining allegations that Afghan security firms have been extorting as much as $4 million a week from contractors paid with U.S. tax dollars and then funneling the spoils to warlords and the Taliban, according to a U.S. military document. The payments are intended to ensure safe passage through dangerous areas they control.
The payments reportedly end up in insurgent hands through a $2.1 billion Pentagon contract to transport food, water, fuel and ammunition to American troops stationed at bases across Afghanistan.