U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan calls for unity

Eikenberry says American mission must move forward after ousting of Gen. McChrystal

Published June 24, 2010 2:44PM (EDT)

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan pledged Thursday to move forward in a unified mission with Gen. David Petraeus after the ouster of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top commander in the war.

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that he was replacing McChrystal as the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan following a Rolling Stone magazine article in which McChrystal and his aides were dismissive of the U.S. administration.

"The United States cannot allow diversions to prevent us from carrying out our mission with unity of purpose," Eikenberry said in a speech to Afghan journalists. "Our president felt that a change was needed to maintain that unity of purpose and so he made that change. He told us that it is time for us to come together and that's what we are going to do."

Eikenberry and McChrystal clashed publicly over strategy in Afghanistan during the time they led the civilian and military sides of the U.S. mission in the country. In the Rolling Stone article, McChrystal is quoted saying he felt betrayed when Eikenberry wrote a memo suggesting that the effort was doomed as long as President Hamid Karzai continued as the country's leader.

But the U.S. ambassador commended McChrystal on Thursday.

"Stan and I have known each other for a very long time, and worked shoulder-to-shoulder here together under very difficult circumstances over this past year. He was an excellent partner," Eikenberry said. He said he had not read the Rolling Stone article.

Eikenberry said he was confident that Petraeus, who has been deeply involved in creating and implementing the Afghan strategy, would be able to take up the new post without losing momentum.

"We continue to have a very clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban's momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity, especially in the area of your army and your police," Eikenberry said. He declined to comment on his relationship with Karzai, which has appeared strained since his criticism of the leader. He did say that he met with Karzai earlier Thursday.

McChrystal has described a plan to create a "rising tide of security" in southern Taliban strongholds that would win over the civilian population, and NATO commanders have said the next few months will be key to success.

The acting commander of the NATO-led force, British Lt. Gen. Nick Parker, said there would be no change in the mission.

"We remain absolutely focused on our tasks and the operational tempo will not miss a beat," said Parker, who will run operations here until Petraeus can take command. It is unclear how long the transition will take.

It is a difficult time for the military alliance in Afghanistan. At least 80 NATO soldiers have died so far in June, the most in a single month. The previous record was 75 in July 2009.

Four British soldiers were killed in a vehicle accident in southern Helmand province Wednesday. All were in a police advisory team traveling to assist at an incident at a checkpoint when their armored truck got into the accident near Gereshk, according to Britain's defense ministry.

The ministry said an inquiry has begun to determine what exactly happened but no enemy action was involved.

The Afghan president's office -- which had strongly backed McChrystal -- said it was relieved at the choice of Petraeus because the Central Command chief knew the war and would not change the strategy.

Ongoing operations appeared undisturbed by the change in military command as NATO reported a number of strikes in and around the southern city of Kandahar in the past two days.

NATO and Afghan troops destroyed a bomb factory and killed a Taliban district commander, NATO said in a statement. In all, 15 insurgents were killed in the attack, said Fazal Ahmad Sherzad, the Kandahar provincial security chief.

In northern Kunduz province, the coalition used air strikes to kill "a number" of insurgents, NATO said, without specifying how many.

But Taliban attacks are also continuing. Seven Afghan construction workers were killed in a roadside bomb attack in central Afghanistan on Wednesday. Their vehicle was hit by the remote-controlled explosive in Uruzgan province, and all the passengers were killed, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but violence has been on the rise in recent months as the Taliban make good on promises to meet a NATO and U.S. military surge by increasing attacks and bombings -- sometimes targeting civilians seen as allied with the government or international forces.

By Heidi Vogt

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