President Obama on Wednesday accepted the resignation of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and announced he would replace him with Army Gen. David Petraeus.
Obama's decision followed a meeting this morning with McChrystal, who was recalled to Washington after he and several aides made incendiary comments about the president, Vice President Joe Biden and several members of the administration's national security team in a Rolling Stone magazine profile.
"I've just told my national security team that now is the time for all of us to come together. Doing so is not an option but an obligation," said Obama, who announced his decision from the White House Rose Garden. "I welcome debate among my team, but I won't tolerate division."
The president said the decision to fire his hand-picked war commander came with "considerable regret" but is the "right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, our military and our country."
McChrystal met with Obama briefly at the White House but left before a broader meeting on the Afghan war that began shortly before noon.
Petraeus, who stood by Obama's side in the Rose Garden, now serves as commander of U.S. Central Command, a post from which he is charged with overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the general, a former commander of troops in Iraq who has been credited with turning around the war there, will now focus exclusively on Afghanistan.
Obama emphasized that the decision to select Petraeus for the post amounts to a "change in personnel but it is not a change in policy."
Petraeus, Obama said, has worked closely with forces in Afghanistan and with the Afghanistan government and partners in the region.
He also was involved in the review last fall that led to a strategy change in Afghanistan, including the surge of an additional 60,000 U.S. troops to quell rising violence in the country.
"He both supported and helped design the strategy that we have in place," Obama said, urging swift Senate confirmation of Petraeus' new command assignment.
Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., said he hoped a confirmation hearing on Petraeus could occur by Thursday -- and "at the latest, perhaps Monday."
McCain also said Obama should consider installing in Afghanistan individuals who succeeded in Iraq, such as Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Iraq.
"I think the whole situation now, particularly on the civilian side, diplomatic team, needs to be evaluated," McCain said. "I would certainly be pleased to see Ambassador Crocker there as well given the fact that they were such a successful team in [Iraq]."
But McCain said he is not calling for the removal of Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, but wants a "re-evaluation of the entire military-civil diplomatic team there."
Initial reaction from most Senate Republicans was largely muted.
"Whatever the president had to do under the circumstances is not something I'm criticizing," said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., said "Obama was within his authority to do that."
Across the Capitol, House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., hailed Petraeus as "the best that we have."
"I have great confidence in his ability to bring about a successful outcome in Afghanistan," he said in a statement. "The commander-in-chief must have confidence in his commanders in the field. It is time to move on and return our focus to waging the war in Afghanistan."
House Armed Services ranking member Howard (Buck) McKeon, R-Calif., said Petraeus will "ensure continuity." But he also said Obama must "exert stronger leadership" over the war.
"By focusing more on the effort, everybody -- from the top commanders and diplomats to the warfighters and civilian professionals in the field -- will know that he is engaged and singularly focused on winning," McKeon said in a statement.