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Gen. Petraeus remained in Kabul for a year to implement a complex strategy that had American troops working side by side with Afghans to take back the villages.

In a surprise move, as the presidential election moved closer, Mr. Obama installed Gen. Petraeus, a charismatic leader coveted by some Republicans as a candidate, into the lower-profile job of CIA director.

“I have no knowledge he had ever had any political goals,” Gen. Griffith said. “He would have denied he had any political goals. I’m not sure the Obama administration did not see it otherwise.”

Said a Petraeus friend: “Petraeus should have been left in place. They wanted him off the stage.”

Gen. Petraeus last year resigned as CIA director over an extramarital affair.

In Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus was succeeded by Marine Gen. John Allen, deputy chief of U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Persian Gulf area.

If the NATO command thought this choice would bring a dose of stability, it was wrong again: The White House surprised Washington by saying that his command would be cut short by a move to Brussels as NATO’s supreme commander.

Gen. Allen, however, got caught up in the Petraeus scandal over an exchange of emails with a married Florida socialite, Jill Kelley, and he opted not to take the NATO job. Fox News reported that the White House pushed him into retirement.

Gen. Dunford relieved Gen. Allen of the Afghanistan command on Feb. 10, after having served as assistant Marine commandant.

‘Withdrawal strategy’ decision

It was another head-scratcher in the military retirement community: Gen. Dunford, an Iraq veteran, never served in the 11-year-old Afghanistan War, and there were plenty of other generals who had.

The Times reported that the Army had endorsed Gen. David Rodriguez, who ran day-to-day operations in Afghanistan, to succeed Gen. Allen, but the White House preferred Gen. Dunford.

Retired generals speculate that the Obama administration settled on Gen. Dunford because it believed it would have an easier time in pressing for further troop cuts in Afghanistan with him as the top commander.

In a nine-page analysis of Afghanistan, Gen. McCaffrey said the early planned shift of Gen. Allen to NATO and the passing-over of Gen. Rodriguez have meaning.

“This is a ‘withdrawal strategy’ personnel decision,” he wrote.

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