WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Thursday there will be no additional changes for now in his leadership team on Afghanistan, but he will be "insisting on unity of purpose" and "paying very close attention" to its performance.
"I'm confident that we've got a team in place that can execute," Obama said.
His comments came as senior Republicans called on Obama to replace the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and the State Department diplomat working most closely on the issue. Both were disparaged by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his aides in an article in Rolling Stone magazine that led Obama to relieve McChrystal of the Afghanistan war command Wednesday.
At the State Department, a spokesman for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she has "full confidence" in Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and in Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Eikenberry, in Kabul, acknowledged "vigorous debates" between the embassy and the military but said their effort was unified.
As the dust began to settle around Obama's appointment of Gen. David Petraeus as McChrystal's replacement, the administration worked to convince allies, adversaries and the public that the change in leadership did not mean a change in strategy. Obama, speaking to reporters with visiting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, said that "we will not miss a beat."
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters that operations in Afghanistan are moving forward, but that "it is slower and harder than we anticipated." In their first public statements since the leadership change, Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered their "full support" for the strategy and the command change at a joint news conference.
Petraeus wrote the military's manual on counterinsurgency and implemented it as the U.S. commander in Iraq until early 2007. As current head of the military's Central Command, he participated in the White House review sessions last fall that approved the counterinsurgency strategy proposed by McChrystal for Afghanistan.
Gates and Mullen praised McChrystal's abilities, took responsibility for proposing him to Obama in the first place, and expressed sorrow at the way his 34-year military career has ended. But they said they agreed his conduct was intolerable.