Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Admiral Calls for ‘New and Different’ Approach in Iraq

Navy Adm. William Fallon testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington during a hearing on his nomination to be commander of the U.S. Central Command today.
Published: January 30, 2007
The New York Times

The admiral who has been nominated to be the next head of the United States Central Command said today during a Senate confirmation hearing that a “new and different” course of action was needed in Iraq and he warned about Iran’s “support” for terrorism beyond its borders.

The officer, Adm. William J. Fallon, is currently in command of all American forces in the Pacific. The Bush administration’s decision this month to recommend him as the next head of the United States Central Command reflected a wish for experienced eyes on both vast land areas and strategic waterways through which oil supplies, contraband and suspected terrorists can pass, senior Pentagon civilians and military officers have said.

If he is confirmed, it would be the first time a career naval officer has been made the top commander of American military forces across a region where they are engaged in two ground wars.

“I am under no illusions regarding the magnitude of the task and the challenges we face in this region of the world,” Admiral Fallon said at the start of the hearings by the Senate Armed Services Committee. “From Beirut to Kashmir, conflict and areas of instability abound.”

The Central Command region stretches from Kenya in the southwest through all of the Middle East to Kazakhstan in the northeast. While it now encompasses the two combat theaters of Afghanistan and Iraq, the fact that Admiral Fallon, with his extensive naval aviation experience, was picked showed the increasing focus of the Bush administration on putting pressure on Iran.

Sen. Carl Levin, the committee chairman, said that the head of central command would need to provide “straightforward independent advice” on the most effective course of action for deterring Iran’s attempts to “acquire nuclear weapons and to dominate its neighbors.”

Mr. Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, also warned that Syria poses a challenge to security in the region.

Today, as the hearings got under way, Admiral Fallon said that “new and different actions” were needed in Iraq using not only military means but economic development and political action.

“I believe the situation in Iraq can be turned around, but time is short,” he said.

He said in Afghanistan, the situation was “fragile” for a government that has made “significant progress” but faces a resurgence of the Taliban in the south. And he touched on what he called Iran’s “support for terrorism” and sectarian strife beyond its borders, calling it destabilizing and troubling.

“In addressing these and other challenges in the region, I would, if confirmed, solicit the opinions and suggestions of our allies and partners in the region and the world,” he said. “There is no doubt that other nations in the region could be helpful with the situation in Iraq.”

For Iraq, President Bush this month approved the deployment of 21,500 troops over the next five months. Asked to give his assessment about the flow of additional American troops into Iraq, and whether it would actually prevent Iraqis from doing more, Admiral Fallon said it was his assessment that current efforts have not been working, but he added that he has not been involved in the details of how the additional troops would be used.

“As you know, I’ve got a full-time job in Pacific Command, and I’ve tried to stay away from the detail of Central Command until such time as I might be confirmed,” he said. “Then I intend to dive into it.”

“I’m surprised that you don’t have that understanding going in, frankly,” said Senator Levin.

Admiral Fallon said that he was also unable to give an assessment of whether the Iraqi government was up to the task of embarking on a new strategy. But he added that a major challenge would be to identify Iraqi military leaders and units that would be effective.

As the top American military officer in the Pacific, Admiral Fallon has had broad experience in the diplomatic and traditional military fields with the Japanese, Chinese and South Koreans.

In 2001, Admiral Fallon apologized to Japanese officials and families of those killed in the accidental sinking of a fishery school ship when it was struck by an American submarine, the Greeneville, off the coast of Hawaii, even though a final military inquiry into the incident had not been completed.

Late last year, he took the unusual step of calling off an annual exercise with the Philippines over a local judge’s failure to honor the bilateral treaty governing protections for American military personnel. At the time, he said he was not taking a stand on the guilt or innocence of an American marine convicted of rape, but was demanding that the Philippines adhere to its treaties.

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