America's chief commander in Afghanistan Gen Stanley McChrystal may be dismissed by Thursday as the White House if furious over the scathing remarks he made about President Barack Obama and his staff.
General McChrystal was ordered to meet the President after being quoted as saying his 'real enemy' are 'the wimps in the White House'.
McChrystal, the architect of the counter-insurgency in Afghanistan, mocked Vice President Joe Biden and remarked that Obama was 'disappointing'.
He also branded a senior defence advisor (National Security Adviser James Jones) 'a clown' and tore into the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry for 'betrayal' in an article in Rolling Stone magazine.
The piece has shocked senior commanders and politicians from Washington to the Pentagon and beyond and prompted an immediate apology from McChrystal.
Defence secretary Robert Gates said in a statement: 'I read with concern the profile piece on General Stanley McChrystal. ‘I believe that General McChrystal made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case.'
Obama was 'angry' when he learned about the article, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday night. Gibbs called the magazine piece 'an enormous mistake of judgement to which he (McChrystal) is going to have to answer', adding 'the magnitude and graveness of the offence are profound'.
And he pointedly refused to back the general and said that 'all options are open', including firing him. His civilian press aide who arranged the article, Duncan Boothby, has resigned.
All eyes are now on what Obama does at the crunch meeting, which takes place tomorrow, amid calls for the general to be fired for washing his 'personal laundry' in public.
But should Obama wield the axe it will leave him with a headache at a crucial time in the war in Afghanistan – General McChrystal's predecessor was fired to make way for him because the military deemed him so essential.
In a profile piece for Rolling Stone called 'Runaway General', McChrystal is depicted as a lone wolf who did not get on with the Obama administration from the beginning of his appointment in May 2009 to lead the Afghan effort.
No-nonsense McChrystal, 55, is described as being 'disappointed' in his first Oval Office meeting with Mr Obama, noting the president looked 'uncomfortable and intimidated' by a roomful of military personnel.
Speaking of his first few months in charge, he said: 'I found that time painful. I was selling an unsellable position.'
There is an exchange between General McChrystal and some his aides in which they pretend he is dismissing war sceptic Mr Biden with a one-liner.
'Are you asking me about Vice President Biden?' General McChrystal asks the reporter, Michael Hastings, laughing.
'Who's that?' 'Biden?' an unnamed aide is quoted as saying. 'Did you say Bite me?'
Referring to Richard Holbrooke, Mr Obama's senior envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, a McChrystal aide is quoted saying: 'The Boss says he's like a wounded animal.
‘Holbrooke keeps hearing rumours that he's going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.'
At one point, General McChrystal reacted with exasperation when he received an email from Mr Holbrooke and said: 'Oh, not another email from Holbrooke. I don't even want to read it.'
National security adviser James L. Jones is branded a 'clown' who remains 'stuck in 1985' and Karl Eikenberry, a retired three-star general and U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, is savaged.
In reference to a leaked cable from General Eikenberry that talks of concerns about how trustworthy Afghan President Hamid Karzai is, General McChrystal said: 'Here's one that covers his flank for the history books.
‘Now if we fail, they can say, 'I told you so.'
The leak is described as a 'betrayal'.
Within hours of the article being released to the U.S. media, General McChrystal issued a grovelling apology.
He said: 'It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.
'Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity.
‘What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard.
‘I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome.'
The row marks a new low between Mr Obama and the military.
He frustrated top commanders by postponing the dispatch of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan for months while he assessed the situation.
Relations were further strained by the White House's commitment to start leaving home by July 2011, in what counterinsurgency strategists advising General McChrystal regarded as an arbitrary deadline.
Last autumn he had to discipline the military leader for being too forthright in his demands for more troops.
'This general has to be fired, he has to be gone by the end of the day,' said Joe Scarborough, on MSNBC.