WASHINGTON, May 12, 2009 – Citing the need for new thinking and new ideas in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has recommended President Barack Obama nominate Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the new commander of NATO and U.S. forces there.

Gates announced Monday at a Pentagon news conference that he has requested the resignation of Army Gen. David McKiernan, currently the commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal currently serves as the director of the Joint Staff.

“I believe that our mission [in Afghanistan] requires new thinking and new approaches from our military leaders,” Gates told reporters. “Today, we have a new policy set by our new president. We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership is needed.”

Gates also announced his recommendation for Army Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, Gates’ senior military advisor, for a new position under McChrystal as deputy commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan.

The defense secretary’s decision comes on the heels of a two-day visit to Afghanistan last week where he met with troops, McKiernan and other senior leaders to get a first-hand assessment of progress there. He said it was critical to get a sense of what the needs are there from a ground-level perspective. However, Obama and NATO have to name the replacement; Gates alone does not have that authority.

Following considerations and consultation with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, and with the approval of the president, Gates said the decision was reached in the best interest of U.S. national security.

“I made these decisions only after careful consideration of a great number of factors, including the advice of Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus,” he said. “In the end, I believe my decisions are in the best interest of our national security and the success of our mission in Afghanistan.”

Gates commended McKiernan for his efforts in Afghanistan throughout the past 11 months, and stressed that nothing specific went wrong under McKiernan’s watch. “A fresh approach and a fresh look in the context of the new strategy was in our best interest,” he said.

“At a time when we’re at the beginning of the implementation of a new strategy … it is in that context that I emphasize that the focus is getting fresh thinking, fresh eyes on the problems,” he added.

Mullen joined Gates at the news conference, adding that the two took a broad range of input from military commanders, and that there were no better choices for the positions than McChrystal and Rodriguez.

‘There’s no more critical ingredient than leadership,” Mullen said. “Clearly we have, in the two officers, a rich experience level. These two officers will bring a renewed focus for the mission in Afghanistan in 2009, and we couldn’t wait until 2010.”

Before serving as director of the Joint Staff, McChrystal was the commander of Joint Special Operations command. He’s spent the majority of his military career commanding special operations and airborne infantry units.

Rodriguez served as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, including 15 months in Afghanistan, prior to becoming Gates’ military advisor last summer.

McKiernan took command of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan in the summer of 2008. He will remain in command of both U.S. and NATO forces until McChrystal is officially nominated and confirmed by Congress. Gates said McKiernan is likely to retire after nearly 37 years of service following his official resignation.

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