Afghan officials expressed relief at the choice of Gen. David Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top U.S. and NATO commander, believing the U.S. strategy aimed at minimizing civilian casualties and bolstering the Afghan government would continue.
Afghans had warned that the dismissal of McChrystal would disrupt progress in the war and jeopardize a pivotal security operation under way in Taliban strongholds in the south.
After President Barack Obama announced the selection of Petraeus, Afghan authorities said Wednesday they were relieved because the veteran war commander helped craft the counterinsurgency strategy being implemented in Afghanistan.
President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the Afghan leader was informed of the change in leadership before the public announcement and that he was happy with the selection, despite his respect for McChrystal.
"He respects Gen. McChrystal but he also respects Gen. Petraeus," Omar said. "He believes Gen. Petraeus knows Afghanistan."
Omar described McChrystal as a "a fine soldier" and partner for the Afghan people "but we believe Gen. Petraeus will also be a trusted partner."
Omar said Karzai believes the U.S. and Afghanistan "are in a very sensitive juncture" and that any disruption "will not be helpful."
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi also publicly voiced his support for McChrystal, but also for Petraeus.
"Since Gen. McChrystal took over the job as commander of the international forces, there have been a lot of changes in different departments, which are very important and positive," Azimi said. "For example, there has been a decrease in the numbers of civilian casualties and we're still working jointly with McChrystal to decrease it further."
Until Petraeus is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, British Lt. Gen. Nick Parker, the deputy commander of the NATO-led forces, is assuming command of the troops, according to British Prime Minister David Cameron.
In a statement, the British prime minister's office said Cameron had spoken to Parker on Wednesday and the general had told him that the mission in Afghanistan "would not miss a beat" during this period.
McChrystal was replaced after being summoned to Washington to explain disparaging comments published in Rolling Stone magazine that he and his top aides made about President Barack Obama and his national security team.
The remarks, which revealed divisions among U.S. officials over the war strategy, came amid rising violence. June has become the deadliest month of the nearly 9-year-old war.
In a statement issued in Kabul, McChrystal said he tendered his resignation out of a desire to see the mission in Afghanistan succeed.
"I strongly support the president's strategy in Afghanistan and am deeply committed to our coalition forces, our partner nations and the Afghan people," McChrystal said in the statement, released just minutes after Obama announced that he was being replaced. "It was out of respect for this commitment — and a desire to see the mission succeed — that I tendered my resignation."
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said McChrystal should have resigned because his strategy had "clearly failed."
"The problems between American leaders over Afghan issues very clearly show that the policy and the strategy of America has failed," he said. "They cannot win this war because the Afghan nation is united and they are committed to defeating American forces in Afghanistan."
The flap over McChrystal comes as NATO and Afghan forces are ramping up security in and around the key southern city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.
Before Petraeus' appointment was announced, Karzai's younger half brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, the head of the Kandahar provincial council, gave McChrystal a ringing endorsement, telling reporters that McChrystal's leadership would be sorely missed.
"If he is fired, it will disrupt the operation," Ahmad Wali Karzai said. "It definitely will affect it. He (McChrystal) started all this, and he has a good relationship with the people. The people trust him and we trust him. If we lose this important person, I don't think that this operation will work in a positive way."
Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.
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