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British general takes charge in Afghanistan

A British general whose son lost his legs in a Taliban attack has taken command of Nato forces in Afghanistan after US President Barack Obama ousted the previous military chief over remarks made to a magazine.

Lieutenant General Sir Nick Parker is now temporarily in charge of 140,000 international troops until he is relieved by US General David Petraeus, the man who oversaw the “surge” operation in Iraq.

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Obama last night accepted General Stanley McChrystal’s resignation after the commander criticised members of the US administration in an off-guard interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

He was unapologetic about pushing McChrystal from office, despite Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s praise for him as the best commander so far during the nine-year conflict.

McChrystal’s conduct “undermines the civilian control of the military that’s at the core of our democratic system,” Obama said.

Parker was until last night the deputy commander of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, serving under US command since his appointment in November.

He now finds himself at the helm of the biggest international military operation anywhere in the world today.

Parker said yesterday that his former boss had brought a sense of optimism to the conflict and had “reinvigorated operations by focusing on protecting the population”.

The new commander has served in the Army since 1973 and is more conscious than most of the toll the fighting has taken on British troops; his son, Harry, a captain in 4th Battalion The Rifles, lost both legs after he was struck by a Taliban roadside bomb in Helmand last year.

Speaking after the attack, Parker described the horror of finding out that his son had been injured.

“It was pretty bad at that stage: they didn’t know if Harry would survive or not,” he said.

“It helped being a soldier because all your training is about remaining as calm and calculating as you can in very difficult circumstances. But it was foul.”

Parker has previously served in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Iraq, and has listed his interest outside the theatre of war as “fishing and Coronation Street”.

Petraeus, the man who will replace him as leader of Isaf troops, is the widely respected US general who masterminded the “surge” operation in Iraq.

As the appointments were announced, Obama denied any sense of personal insult at the remarks made to Rolling Stone.

McChrystal is quoted joking about key White House personnel, expressing dissatisfaction about a meeting with the president and being dismissive of America’s diplomatic approach to Afghanistan.

Asked about US Vice President Joe Biden, who has a relatively low-profile outside American political circles, McChrystal remarked: “Who’s that?”

He was also scathing about a meeting with French politicians in Paris, telling the reporter who was shadowing him: “I’d rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner ... unfortunately, no-one in this room could do it.”

Announcing the new appointment, Obama said: “This is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy.”

He added that his decision was reached “with considerable regret”.

The US President met McChrystal behind closed doors before announcing his departure, and potentially the end of the 55-year-old’s military career.

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