According to a report from the Times of London, General David Petraeus is soon expected to leave his post as commander of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan. "The general who replaces Petraeus will have to navigate a tricky relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani leaders," the Times noted. (h/t HuffPo)
The Times report echoes an earlier story published by the Washington Post Tuesday afternoon that stated "virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months..."
The Times now reports that the Pentagon is expected to name a replacement for Petraeus in the coming months.
As you'll recall, President Barack Obama asked Gen. Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal after the then-commander made off-handed and inappropriate comments to Rolling Stone magazine last summer.
So where might Gen. Petraeus be headed?
While no official decision has been made, Reuters reports that the four-star general's name has been thrown around as a potential successor to Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is expected to retire in October. "Any move would be part of a broader shake-up in the administration, which will also see Defense Secretary Robert Gates retire this year," Reuters adds.
The question is what this move, if confirmed, would mean for policy. Petraeus, more than anyone else, has been identified with the intensified military campaign in Afghanistan which, according to critics of the policy, has reduced prospects of a political settlement by alienating Taliban leaders who might otherwise be coaxed into peace talks.
Petraeus has been a towering figure in Washington and difficult to challenge politically. He had what was seen in the United States as a good track record in Iraq. And he was backed by Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — making it very hard for those within the U.S. administration who disagreed with his assessment to win President Barack Obama over to their point of view.
Moreover, Obama had already sacked two generals — Generals David McKiernan and Stanley McChrystal — and could hardly dismiss a third. (If I remember rightly — and no doubt someone will correct me if I am wrong — no president since Abraham Lincoln has changed his generals so frequently in wartime.) Promoting Petraeus would be far easier.
His departure, especially with Gates on his way out, could create the space for Obama to recalibrate Afghan strategy, backing away from the military surge and focusing more on a political settlement - if he wants to do so.
Another shakeup in Afghanistan personnel includes U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry who will reportedly also leave his job in the coming months.
In a statement emailed to military correspondent Michael Yon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates' press spokesman dismissed the rumor:
Despite some sensational speculation by one of the London papers, I can assure you General Petraeus is not quitting as ISAF commander, but nor does he plan to stay in Afghanistan forever. Obviously he will rotate out at some point, but that point has not yet been determined and it will not occur anytime soon. Until then, he will continue to ably lead our coalition forces in Afghanistan.