Archive for the ‘Centcom’ Category

U.S. shows that soft power can work in a hard war

November 12, 2008

Soft power is about to come to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) – America’s military command in the Middle East – in a big way.

Gary Schaub Jr.
The Washington Times

Associated Press U.S. Central Command's Gen. David Petraeus speaks during an interview last week at a U.S. military base in Bagram, north of Kabul, Afghanistan.

Above: Central Command’s Gen. David Petraeus speaks during an interview last week at a U.S. military base.  Photo by the Associated Press

By winning friends and influencing people, the idea goes, the United States can defuse potential conflicts before they start and achieve America’s goals without firing a shot.

Soft power has currency in a cash-strapped U.S. military. The commander of SOUTHCOM, America’s military command for Central and South America, has undertaken many such missions. Adm. James Stavridis has sent Navy hospital ships to countries in that area to provide free medical care, train local doctors and build schools.

The new command in Africa – AFRICOM – has announced that such soft-power missions will be its top priority.

But these are relative backwaters. CENTCOM, where the United States is engaged in two wars and is prepared for others, is where soft power will have its largest impact.

Army Gen. David Petraeus, who is best known as the general behind the successful “surge” strategy in Iraq, has just taken over CENTCOM, and he is bringing soft power to bear.

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Petraeus seeking broad support for U.S. strategy

October 16, 2008

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Even before he takes command of U.S. military strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gen. David Petraeus is reaching beyond the military sphere to encourage international support for stabilizing the region.
U.S. General David Petraeus addresses journalists after a meeting ... 
U.S. General David Petraeus addresses journalists after a meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street in London September 29, 2008.(Andrew Winning/Reuters)

Petraeus, whose innovative thinking is credited with helping save Iraq from civil war, met International Monetary Fund and World Bank representatives last week in preparation for new efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said.

The move, unusual for a military commander, underscores the Pentagon’s emphasis on unifying military, economic, political and diplomatic aid to help the two countries cope with militant violence and economic dislocation, officials said.

On October 31, the Army general will become head of Central Command, responsible for American military interests in 20 countries across the Middle East and Central and South Asia.

“The purpose (of the World Bank and IMF meetings) was to touch base and note the Central Command’s interest in supporting comprehensive approaches in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and others,” said a military official close to Petraeus.

His arrival at Centcom is widely expected to reinvigorate U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO efforts face grave challenges from an increasingly confident Taliban.

The United States has 32,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 19,000 under Centcom command and 13,000 under NATO.

Petraeus will launch a 100-day assessment of U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and other countries in the Centcom region once he takes over, officials said.

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What the Petraeus Promotion Means

April 23, 2008

By Mark Thompson
Time Magazine
April 23, 2008

Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s announcement Wednesday promoting General David Petraeus from his current post running the war in Iraq to head up U.S. Central Command triggered both political and military unease. That response may be inevitable, coming on the downside of an unpopular war and in the waning months of the tenure of the unpopular President who launched it.
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While Republicans hailed the news that Petraeus – who implemented the “surge” of 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Iraq, which is seen has having tamped down violence – was moving up the chain of command, Democrats were cooler. Opponents of the war fear that if the Democrat-led Senate approves Petraeus’s promotion, it could be taken as a signal to “stay the course” in a war that has dragged on for more than five years and has killed more than 4,000 U.S. troops. Party activists will be paying close attention to how Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama vote on Petraeus’s new assignment, which the White House hopes will happen by the end of May. (Presumptive G.O.P. nominee John McCain hailed Petraeus’ nomination, calling him “one of the great generals in American history.”)

U.S. military commander in Iraq General David Petraeus salutes ...  

Democrats are unlikely to mount a campaign to block Petraeus’ promotion. Yet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the next CENTCOM commander must come with new plans for Iraq “if directed to by a new President.” Petraeus hedged last month when asked what he would say if a new President were to order a withdrawal plan within 60 days of taking office. He verbally juggled risks and objectives before conceding, “We take orders and we follow them.”

The impact of promoting Petraeus, however, may be even greater in the national security establishment than on Capitol Hill. It’s a wake-up call to old-school Army officers and their vanishing dreams of massive tank battles and artillery skirmishes, some of whom privately call Petraeus “King David” for his high self-regard and chumminess with reporters. Gates has made clear that wants commanders able to carry out the messy, irregular kind of combat championed by Petraeus that the Defense Secretary envisages the U.S. fighting for years to come. The promotion reinforces the message he delivered to young Air Force and Army officers on Monday, when he criticized their leaders for devoting too much time and effort to future potential wars, and not enough to the real wars now under way.

“The kinds of conflicts that we’re doing, not just in Iraq but in Afghanistan, and some of the challenges that we face elsewhere in the region and in the Central Command area, are very much characterized by asymmetric warfare,” Gates said. “And I don’t know anybody in the United States military better qualified [than Petraeus] to lead that effort.” Gates said he had discussed Petraeus’s promotion with Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the armed services committee, and said he didn’t “anticipate any problems” in winning Senate approval. Petraeus, in a brief statement from Baghdad, said he is “honored to be nominated for this position.”

U.S. Central Command is the core of the U.S. military’s current operations – it includes both Afghanistan and Iraq – stretching from the Horn of Africa to Pakistan. Although its headquarters are at an Air Force base in Tampa, Fla., recent commanders have spent much of their time at their forward headquarters in Qatar. Petraeus will assume command late this summer or early fall, replacing Admiral William Fallon, who requested early retirement last month after he was portrayed in a magazine interview as the lone officer preventing a U.S. war with Iran. Petraeus’s former deputy in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, will return to Baghdad in the Petraeus slot, giving up his new assignment as the Army’s No. 2 officer after only two months back in the U.S. “There is no question that there are a handful of generals, like a lot of captains and enlisted soldiers and the NCOs,” Gates said, “who have had repeated tours in Iraq.”

Resigned to Reality

March 16, 2008

By Oliver North
The Washington Times
March 16, 2008

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer stands next to his wife Silda ...
Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York resigned this week, which
took a lot of newspaper ink and air time on TV and radio.
Admiral “Fox” Fallon also resigned.  Why? 
(Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

….potentates of the press didn’t even notice the sex scandal that claimed the career of another powerful hypocrite: Tehran’s brutal police chief, Gen. Reza Zarei. The general, a favorite of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been responsible for “moral enforcement” of Shariah law, including “dress codes” that require women to be covered from head to toe. The chief “stepped down” after he was caught nude in a Tehran brothel accompanied by six naked prostitutes. It’s a shame our press corps missed this one.

Mr. Spitzer’s sexual shenanigans also pushed another unexpected departure into the background noise — that of U.S. Navy Adm. William “Fox” Fallon, who was commander in chief of U.S. Central Command (CentCom). Though devoid of the titillating details oozing out of Albany and Tehran, the March 11 resignation of the senior U.S. military commander in the world’s most troubled and dangerous region is rife with hypocrisy….
Commander of the U.S. Central Command Navy Adm. William Fallon ... 
Commander of the U.S. Central Command Navy Adm. William Fallon testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in this March 4, 2008 file photo.REUTERS/Larry Downing/Files

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COMMENTARY

Top U.S. Officer in Mideast Resigns

March 12, 2008

By Thomas E. Ricks 
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 12, 2008; Page A01

The top U.S. commander in the Middle East, whose views on strategy in the region have put him at odds with the Bush administration, abruptly announced his resignation yesterday, calling reports of such disagreements an untenable “distraction.”

Adm. William J. “Fox” Fallon became head of U.S. Central Command last March, putting him ostensibly in charge of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he clashed frequently with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, over strategy and troop levels, Pentagon officials said. Though technically Fallon’s subordinate, Petraeus has more experience in Iraq and has forged a strong connection with President Bush.
Adm. William Fallon, commander of the U. S. Central Command, ...
Adm. William Fallon, commander of the U. S. Central Command, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington in this May 3, 2007 file photo. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Tuesday, March 11, 2008, that Fallon is resigning.
(AP Photo/Dennis Cook)  

Fallon, 63, had made several comments reflecting disagreement with the administration’s stance on Iran, most recently in an Esquire magazine article last week that portrayed him as the only person who might stop Bush from going to war with the Islamic republic.

“Recent press reports suggesting a disconnect between my views and the president’s policy objectives have become a distraction at a critical time,” Fallon said in a statement. Though he denied that any discrepancies exist, he said “it would be best to step aside and allow” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates “and our military leaders to move beyond this distraction.”

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, seen here in February 2008, ...
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, seen here in February 2008, chose not to comment Monday on a magazine article that says the commander of US forces in the Middle East may soon be replaced because of his opposition to war with
Iran.  Gates suffered a shoulder injury this winter when he slipped on ice ourside his Washington DC home.
(AFP/File/Raveendran)


Fallon is expected to step down at the end of the month, after barely a year in his position, and just eight days before Petraeus is scheduled to testify before Congress about conditions in Iraq. Military officers said it appeared that it was made clear to Fallon that nobody would object if he stepped down.

Admiral Fallon reached this difficult decision entirely on his own,” Gates said yesterday in an unscheduled news conference. He added: “I believe it was the right thing to do, even though I do not believe there are, in fact, significant differences between his views and administration policy.”

The defense secretary also praised Fallon’s abilities as a strategist, even though it was the admiral’s strategic views that seemed to trouble the administration. “He is enormously talented and very experienced, and he does have a strategic vision that is rare,” Gates said.

The Esquire article, written by Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former Naval War College professor, asserted that if Fallon left his job anytime soon, it could signal that Bush intends to go to war with Iran. Asked about that yesterday, Gates called it “just ridiculous.”

Several Democrats were quick to accuse the administration of not tolerating dissent. “It’s distressing that Admiral Fallon feels he had to step down,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.). “President Bush’s oft-repeated claim that he follows the advice of his commanders on the ground rings hollow if our commanders don’t feel free to disagree with the president.” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) asked whether Fallon’s resignation is a reflection that the administration is hostile to “the frank, open airing of experts’ views.”

A likely successor to Fallon is Petraeus, some defense experts said. The general could be promoted to the Centcom post and replaced in Baghdad by Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who until last month was Petraeus’s deputy in Iraq. Odierno, who has been nominated to become Army vice chief of staff, developed a strong working relationship with Petraeus.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, center, ...
The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, center, arrives for a youth soccer tournament in central Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, March 1, 2008. Gen. Petraeus will ask President Bush to wait until as late as September to decide when to bring home more troops than already scheduled, a senior administration official said Friday.
(AP photo/Dusan Vranic)
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Another possible successor mentioned yesterday is Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the head of Special Operations in Iraq. McChrystal recently was nominated to be director of the staff of the Joint Chiefs, a key Pentagon position.On Iraq, Fallon butted heads with Petraeus over the past year, arguing for a more rapid drawdown of U.S. troops and a swifter transition to Iraqi security forces. Fallon even carried out his own review of the conduct of the war — a move that surprised many Pentagon officials, in part because Odierno and Petraeus had already revamped U.S. strategy in Iraq and, with Bush’s approval, had implemented a buildup of about 30,000 additional troops, moving them off big bases and deploying them among the Iraqi population.

In the Esquire article, Fallon contends that Iraq was consuming excessive U.S. attention. In a part of the world with “five or six pots boiling over,” he is quoted as saying, “our nation can’t afford to be mesmerized by one problem.”

The article was “definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back,” a retired general said, especially because of its “extraordinarily flip, damning and insulting” tone. He noted that since it appeared last week, it has been the talk of military circles, where it was expected that Fallon would be disciplined.
 
Shah Marai/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.
Adm. William J. Fallon, left, in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2007.

Fallon, one of the last Vietnam veterans in the U.S. military, was the first Navy officer selected to lead Centcom, a role traditionally granted to Army and Marine generals such as H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Tommy R. Franks and Anthony C. Zinni. One reason he was chosen to replace Army Gen. John P. Abizaid was because the administration — dealing with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a diplomatic crisis over Iran’s nuclear program — wanted a seasoned officer who could step into the job quickly, without having to learn the ropes of top command, according to a person involved in his selection.

As a veteran of Pacific Command, where he focused on dealing with the rise of China, Fallon was seen as someone who would be comfortable operating at the highest levels of diplomacy and politics. He had told colleagues that he viewed Iran as a problem similar to China — one that mainly required steady engagement rather than aggressive confrontation. That stance put him at odds with Iran hawks both inside and outside the administration.

Peter D. Feaver, a former staff member of Bush’s National Security Council, said that the public nature of Fallon’s remarks made it necessary for the admiral to step down. “There is ample room for military leaders to debate administration policy behind closed doors,” said Feaver, a political scientist at Duke University. “However, taking such arguments into the media would violate basic democratic norms of civil-military relations.”

But Richard Danzig, who served as Navy secretary from 1998 to 2001 and has known Fallon for 15 years, said Fallon’s departure will leave a significant hole in a critical region. “Any turnover in Centcom has real costs, because this is an arena in the world, more than others, that depends a lot on relationships and extensive periods of conversation and mutual understanding,” he said.

That might prove especially true in Pakistan. Fallon had become a point man for crucial military relations there as the Pentagon implements a stepped-up program to help Pakistani forces deal with Islamic extremism along the border with Afghanistan. In visits to Islamabad in November and January, he cemented ties with Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the new armed forces chief of staff. The administration hopes that Kiyani will keep the military out of Pakistani politics while showing new aggression toward al-Qaeda and Taliban forces along the Afghan border.

Fallon’s departure also reflects Gates’s management style. During his 15 months at the Pentagon, the defense secretary has shown a willingness to move decisively in cases of internal conflict. A career intelligence officer, he demanded the resignation of Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey last year because of the way he handled the fallout from reports about substandard care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Gates also declined to nominate Gen. Peter Pace, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for a second two-year term, amid concerns that a Democratic-controlled Congress would grill Pace on Iraq.

Yesterday, Gates said the perception that Fallon disagreed with the administration’s policies was enough to concern Fallon that he may no longer be effective in the region. Gates quoted Fallon as saying that the situation was “embarrassing.”

Staff writers Josh White, Karen DeYoung and Peter Baker contributed to this report.

Related:
Admiral William Fallon Resigns as U.S. Mideast Military Chief

Esquire Magazine on Admiral William “Fox” Fallon