David Petraeus, the retired four-star general renowned for taking charge of the military campaigns in Iraq and then Afghanistan, has abruptly resigned as director of the CIA, admitting to an extramarital affair.
The affair was discovered during an FBI investigation, according to officials briefed on the developments. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to publicly discuss the matter. It was unclear what the FBI was investigating or when it became aware of the affair.
Petraeus' resignation shocked US intelligence and political communities. It was a sudden end to the public career of the best-known general of the post-9/11 wars, a man credited with salvaging the US conflict in Iraq and sometimes mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate.
His service was effusively praised on Friday in statements from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Petraeus, who turned 60 on Wednesday, told CIA employees in a statement that he had met President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday and asked to be allowed to resign. On Friday, Obama accepted.
Petraeus told his staffers he was guilty of "extremely poor judgment" in the affair. "Such behaviour is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organisation such as ours."
He has been married for 38 years to Holly Petraeus, whom he met when he was a cadet at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York. She was the daughter of the academy superintendent. They have two children, and their son led an infantry platoon in Afghanistan.
Obama said in a statement that Petraeus had provided "extraordinary service to the United States for decades" and had given a lifetime of service that "made our country safer and stronger". He called Petraeus "one of the outstanding general officers of his generation".
Michael Morell, CIA's deputy director, will serve as acting director. Morell was the important CIA aide in the White House to President George Bush during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "I am completely confident that the CIA will continue to thrive and carry out its essential mission," Obama said.
The resignation comes at a sensitive time. The administration and the CIA have struggled to defend security and intelligence lapses before the attack that killed the US ambassador to Libya and three others. It was an issue during the presidential campaign that ended with Obama's re-election on Tuesday.
The CIA has come under intense scrutiny for providing the White House and other administration officials with talking points that led them to say the Benghazi attack was a result of a film protest, not a terrorist attack.
It has become clear that the CIA was aware the attack was distinct from the film protests roiling across other parts of the Muslim world. Morell rather than Petraeus now is expected to testify at closed congressional briefings next week on the September 11 attacks on the consulate in Benghazi.