Army Gen. David H. Petraeus commands a respect in Congress and on foreign battlefields that may enhance the U.S. and NATO mission in a decisive phase against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
President Obama's announcement Wednesday that he's replacing Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal for remarks disparaging administration officials thrusts Petraeus back into the role of leading a major combat effort to reverse enemy gains.
Petraeus, who wrote the Army's manual on counterinsurgency, took charge in Iraq in 2007 as the Bush administration started a troop surge that stabilized a nation on the verge of civil war.
"From the standpoint of continuity and consistency of approach and direction, I think this is a very good choice," said retired Army Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, who has been friends with Petraeus for more than 25 years and served with him in Iraq. "It lowers the risk of any significant loss of momentum."
The president said the shift in command "is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy."
Obama said Thursday he does not anticipate further firings beyond McChrystal.
"I'm paying very close attention," Obama said of his war council. "And I will be insisting on extraordinary performance moving forward."
Petraeus, 57, takes over as the U.S. completes the deployment of 30,000 additional troops Obama authorized in December in an effort to halt the Taliban resurgence that has increased deaths of U.S. and allied soldiers to the fastest pace in the war. With a 4-month-old offensive stalled in the southern province of Helmand, the United States has delayed what it described as a decisive drive in the neighboring Taliban heartland of Kandahar.
The United States plans to reassess the strategy in December and train enough Afghan soldiers and police to allow a drawdown to begin in July 2011. That pullout date has drawn criticism from Republicans.
The "policy is confusing," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C. "It undercuts the war effort. It empowers our enemies. It confuses our friends."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who urged Obama to keep McChrystal, "respects" Obama's decision, spokesman Waheed Omar said in a telephone interview.
Meanwhile, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that he takes responsibility for handpicking McChrystal but that the general's intemperate remarks in Rolling Stone magazine were an aberration.
Mullen, sounding dejected, said McChrystal rightly took the blame for the challenge to civilian authority posed by the remarks he and his aides made in Rolling Stone.
"Honestly, when I first read it, I was nearly sick," Mullen said. "Literally, physically, I couldn't believe it. So I was stunned."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.