Washington (CNN) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates backed keeping Gen. Stanley McChrystal on the job because he was vital to the war effort in Afghanistan, but he was overruled, a senior Pentagon official told CNN's Barbara Starr.
The official has direct knowledge of the events but declined to be identified because they are internal administration discussions.
President Barack Obama relieved McChrystal of command of the Afghan war on Wednesday, a day after Rolling Stone published critical comments about top White House officials by members of McChrystal's staff.
It's still unclear whether Obama had made up his mind before sitting down with McChrystal, but CNN has learned that during their one-on-one meeting, Obama gave the general a chance to defend himself.
"The president asked him about the (Rolling Stone) article," said a senior administration official.
McChrystal "tried to explain the situation," the official said.