Dismay in Kabul at McChrystal sacking

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The dismissal of NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal met with dismay in Kabul, where Afghans and foreign diplomats praised his bold efforts to change the course of the war.

But the Taliban vowed the change in command would not halt their fight against foreign troops, as NATO passed a grim milestone with June becoming the deadliest month for its soldiers since the war began almost nine years ago.

McChrystal's counter-insurgency strategy, which brought sweeping changes aimed at cutting civilian casualties and winning over the population, had been credited with bringing some order to a chaotic and spiralling conflict.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government had publicly urged the White House not to remove McChrystal for making disparaging remarks about officials in US President Barack Obama's administration in a Rolling Stone profile.

A spokesman for Karzai -- whose relations with the White House have been troubled -- praised McChrystal as a "trusted partner of the Afghan people" and said his removal would "not be helpful" at this critical juncture.

Spokesman Waheed Omar, speaking before McChrystal's removal on Wednesday, said Kabul believed the US general had made a mistake but it should not detract from the urgency of trying to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

However the government later said it respected Obama's decision and welcomed the appointment of David Petraeus, the general credited with changing the direction of the Iraq conflict, to succeed McChrystal.

"His replacement General David Petraeus is someone who knows Afghanistan, who knows the region very well and is an experienced general," said Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omar. "We are looking forward to working with him."

Sayed Massoud, an analyst and lecturer at Kabul University, expressed concern at the departure of McChrystal just weeks after the sacking of the Afghan interior minister and head of intelligence.

"I'm very scared about this, that the Afghan interior minister, head of Afghan intelligence and McChrystal are removed from their positions in a very short time. It means a kind of change is coming to Afghanistan."

The deaths of four British soldiers in a road accident in southern Afghanistan made June the deadliest single month for US-led foreign forces in the nearly nine-year conflict, according to an AFP tally.

The incident brought to 79 the number of foreign soldiers who have died as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan so far this month, eclipsing last August, the previous most deadly month, when 77 NATO soldiers were killed.

The US military has warned that casualties will inevitably mount as foreign forces build up their campaign to oust militants from the southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban's spiritual home and a hotbed of violence.

The removal of McChrystal, a brilliant former special operations chief who was appointed commander in June last year of what has become America's longest war, prompted the Taliban to react with customary defiance.

"We don't care whether it's McChrystal or Petraeus," Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location. "We'll be fighting the invading forces until they leave."

NATO's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan Mark Sedwill called McChrystal "one of the finest men I have ever known" who "was pivotal in creating and driving forward NATO's strategy in Afghanistan".

McChrystal's strategy entailed pouring tens of thousands of extra troops into Afghanistan to win over civilians and train local forces.

He won early praise for a drop in civilian casualties, for reaching out to Afghans and for working overtime to bring Karzai on board.

The Afghan presidency credited McChrystal with helping to "increase the level of trust" with the Afghan people since he assumed command last year.

Karzai and Obama have endured months of discord and worsening relations, but made an effort to present a united front during the Afghan leader's last visit to Washington on May 12.

The former UN representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide who left in March under a cloud over election fraud, said Petraeus was a "brilliant general" who was "very involved" in shaping strategy in Afghanistan.

© 2010 AFP

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