Washington, May 12 (ANI): US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has sacked the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan as part of an initiative to bring a more aggressive and innovative approach to a worsening seven-year war in that landlocked country.
Gates announced the decision in terse comments at the Pentagon, saying that "fresh eyes were needed" and that "a new approach was probably in our best interest."
When asked if the dismissal ended the general's military career, Gates replied, "Probably."
The move reflects a belief that the war in Afghanistan, waged against an increasingly strong Taliban and its supporters across a rugged, sprawling country, is growing ever more complex.
Defense Department officials said General McKiernan, a respected career armor officer, had been removed primarily because he had brought too conventional an approach to the challenge.
He is to be replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, a former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command.
He served in Afghanistan as chief of staff of military operations in 2001 and 2002 and recently ran all commando operations in Iraq.
Forces under General McChrystal's command were credited with finding and capturing Saddam Hussein and with tracking and killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
His success in using intelligence and firepower to track and kill insurgents, and his training in unconventional warfare that emphasizes the need to protect the population, made him the best choice for the command in Afghanistan, Defense Department officials said.
At the same time, he will be confronted with deep tensions over the conduct of Special Operations forces in Afghanistan, whose aggressive tactics are seen by Afghan officials as responsible for many of the American mistakes that have resulted in the deaths of civilians.
Pentagon officials have begun to describe Afghanistan as the military's top priority, even more important than the war in Iraq.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Gates in making the announcement.
The change also reflects the influence of Gen. David H. Petraeus, who took over last fall as the top American commander for Iraq and Afghanistan.
General Petraeus served under General McKiernan in Iraq only to surpass him quickly in his rise through the ranks.
The defense officials said the two men did not develop a bond after General Petraeus inherited General McKiernan as his Afghanistan commander.
While his unblemished record included service in the former Yugoslavia, General McKiernan found himself unable to win support from the two most recent defense secretaries.
A senior administration official said that last week, Gates sought President Obama's approval to remove General McKiernan and the president agreed.
Gates then officially delivered the news of his final decision over dinner last Wednesday night with General McKiernan at Camp Eggers, the American military headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. (ANI)