Petraeus to Get Nod to Lead Mideast Command

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates says President Bush will nominate Army Gen. David Petraeus to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command.


From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has been nominated to head the U.S. Central Command know us CENTCOM. If approved by the Senate, Petraeus would be responsible for all military operations in the Middle East, as well as, other parts of Asia and Africa. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the General has picked for his success in Iraq.

NPR's Jackie Northam has the story.

JACKIE NORTHAM: The position for CENTCOM chief became suddenly vacant last month when Navy Admiral William Fallon retired. Reportedly, because of the policy breach with Bush Administration over Iran. Today, Defense Secretary Gates said he's confident General Petraeus is the best man to replace Fallon because of his expertise in fighting terrorists and insurgents. What Gates calls asymmetric warfare.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): The kinds of conflicts that we're dealing with not just in Iraq but in Afghanistan and some of the challenges that we face elsewhere in the region, are very much characterized by asymmetric warfare. And I don't know anybody in United States military better qualified to lead that effort.

NORTHAM: Petraeus helped draft a new counterinsurgency manual for the U.S. military. He's also widely credited with implementing the so-called surge strategy in Iraq where roughly 30,000 additional U.S. troops have helped create a tenuous drop in violence there. Anthony Cordesman with Center for Strategic and International Studies or CSIS says Petraeus can use his Iraq experience in other military operations.

Professor ANTHONY CORDESMAN (Center for Strategic and International Studies): What you are doing is providing continuity at a critical point of time, where the successes he's had tactically in Iraq are successes which are also needed in Afghanistan and he takes on a new responsibility there.

NORTHAM: Gates said that he had nominated Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, Petraeus's former right-hand man in Iraq to replace him. Gates was asked where the familiar faces and into new position would signal that the U.S. military was going to stay the course in Iraq. Gates indicated that the U.S. may be in Iraq for the long hall.

Sec. GATES: I think that course certainly that General Petraeus has stopped, has been a successful course, so frankly, I think staying in that course is not a bad idea. I would say it's a good idea.

NORTHAM: Gates called on the senate to quickly approve both nominations. Petraeus has respect even if it's a grudging respect among many members of Congress. But the latitude he's been given so far by the Bush administration to perform his mission on Iraq could change with a new administration says the CSIS's Cordesman.

Sec. GATES: One of the critical roles here, that General Petraeus will have to play, along with General Odierno in Iraq, is transition to a new administration which will either have to the decide, to stay or to withdraw and reshape our entire posture.

NORTHAM: Gates said that he expects Petraeus to shift into his new position as CENTCOM Chief by late summer or early fall. That would allow Petraeus still to assess and decide whether to resume pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq later this year.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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