The Pentagon has denied reports that Afghanistan war commander Gen. David Petraeus is leaving his post.
A front page article in the Times of London, available to subscribers only, said Petraeus would be leaving by the end of the year, and quoted Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell as saying President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates already were searching for a replacement commanding general for Afghanistan’s International Security Assistance Force.
Twitter quickly caught onto the the story, while the Huffington Post posted a headline saying Petraeus was “out” in Afghanistan; other reports said he was “quitting.”
The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported that Petraeus, and his deputy commander Gen. David Rodriguez, were widely expected to step down by the end of the year.
But Morrell told Stars and Stripes that: “Despite some sensational speculation by one of the London papers, I can assure you General Petraeus is not quitting as ISAF commander."
However, he added somewhat paradoxically: "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.”
After his statement, The Times changed its headline to read “Search on for General Petraeus Successor.”
According to the BBC's North America Editor Mark Mardell, Morrell's second comment "clearly leaves the way open for him to leave the job by the end of the year."
Petraeus has only been in the job a matter of months, an emergency appointment, having taken command of the Afghan war effort last summer following Stanley McChrystal's dismissal over remarks made in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
His previous job was head of U.S. Central Command, technically a more senior job.
Stepping down in the fall would allow Petraeus to oversee the start of a planned troop withdrawal in July, and would coincide with the expected departure of other senior figures in the war effort, including the defense secretary, Robert Gates, and the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry.
The Times reported that President Barack Obama planned to replace Petraeus, who was appointed as commander eight months ago, as part of a broad reorganization of senior U.S. officials in Afghanistan.
“General Petraeus is doing a brilliant job but he’s been going virtually nonstop since 9/11 [and] he can’t do it forever,” the Times quoted Morrell as saying.