US President Barack Obama has fired top Afghanistan commander General Stanley McChrystal over inflammatory comments that angered the White House and threatened to undermine the war effort.
Obama relieved General McChrystal of his command after a private, 30-minute meeting at the White House and named General David Petraeus, commander of the US Central Command, to replace him, a senior administration official said.
McChrystal had been summoned by Obama to explain remarks he and his aides made in a magazine article that disparaged Obama and other senior civilian leaders. Obama was due to make a public statement in the White House Rose Garden.
The situation posed a dilemma for Obama. If McChrystal had kept his job, the president could have been seen as tolerating insubordination from the military. But by firing him, Obama is shaking up the chain of command at a perilous moment in the unpopular nine-year-old war.
McChrystal first met Defence Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon before entering the White House through a side door for his one-on-one meeting with Obama. He left before Obama's Afghanistan war council, which he had been due to attend, convened in late morning.
Obama, described by aides as furious about the Rolling Stone magazine article, issued a stern rebuke to McChrystal on Tuesday, saying he wanted to talk directly to the general before making a final decision.
"I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed poor judgment," Obama told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.
Amid harsh criticism over McChrystal's contemptuous remarks, US officials had said they expected the general, the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan and architect of Obama's war strategy, to offer his resignation and allow the president to decide whether to accept it.
With his career on the line, the 55-year-old general apologised. "It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened," McChrystal said in a statement.
In the article entitled "The Runaway General" McChrystal himself makes belittling remarks about Vice President Joe Biden and the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.
His aides are quoted as calling one top Obama official a "clown" and another a "wounded animal" and saying the president appeared intimidated at his first meeting with McChrystal.