Bush to Nominate Petraeus to Lead War Fronts

President Bush will nominate Gen. David Petraeus to be the head of Central Command, putting him in charge of the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The general who's been overseeing the war in Iraq is in line for a promotion. The secretary of defense says General David Petraeus will be nominated as head of the U.S. Central Command. In other words, he'll be in charge of military operations throughout the Middle East and central Asia. That means he'll be responsible for the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

We go now to NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, who joins us from Baghdad. And, Tom, this promotion isn't exactly a surprise.

TOM BOWMAN: Well, you know, not really, Renee. He was expected to go to Europe to be the top American military commander there. But if you look around the American military, clearly, Petraeus has the most hands-on experience in what is really now the main focus not only in the region, but in the training of the American military, and that's counter-insurgency warfare.

It's a more complicated, I guess, and nuanced military operation. And, of course, he's expected to be confirmed by the Senate. We don't see any problem along those lines.

MONTAGNE: General Petraeus's predecessor at central command, Admiral William Fallon, he was overseeing two wars - both Afghanistan and Iraq - and he was complaining with so many troops being sent to Iraq, he couldn't do right, in a sense, by Afghanistan. But given his commitment to Iraq, do you think General Petraeus will have this same concern?

BOWMAN: Well, you know, I think so. Fallon's concerns will now be Petraeus's headache. Now the challenge will be to reduce troops in Iraq without losing the security gains there, but you're right. The real concern now is Afghanistan. There's a resurge in Taliban. There are more attacks.

And also, there's a need for more combat troops there and also trainers for the Afghan forces. The American military had to send 3,200 Marines that just arrived in Afghanistan. They're expected to be there till October. And I'm hearing now that we expect them to be replaced by U.S. troops. And so that'll be the concern for Petraeus now. That's on his plate. How do you juggle both of these? It's a real tough situation.

MONTAGNE: When would this happen, if it happens, and who would take his place as senior commander in Iraq?

BOWMAN: Gates said late summer, early fall for Petraeus to take over. And I would guess that they want to wait a little bit to make sure the security gains hold in Iraq. And also, we have provincial elections coming up in October. I would guess that they would want to get as close to those elections - or maybe after the elections before Petraeus takes over as central command commander.

MONTAGNE: And any change in the war effort with a new general heading up the effort in Iraq?

BOWMAN: Well, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno will be taking over for Petraeus. He's Petraeus's old number two officer. But Odierno is going to face a more tenuous situation now in Iraq. The U.S. surge troops, those 30,000 extra troops, will be heading home by summer. They're already starting to move out. And there's also, there's a serious fight within the Shiite community between the Maliki government and radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Also, the Sons of Iraq - now, this is the group of 100,000-strong former Sunni insurgents that are sort of like a neighborhood watch now, and they're being paid by the Americans. They want to be absorbed into the Iraqi security forces, a lot of them. The Maliki government is foot-dragging on that effort. So the question is how do you find these guys permanent jobs? How do you make them happy so they don't return to the barricades and start shooting at the Iraqi forces and American forces?

So, Odierno is going to have a harder time, I think, than Petraeus trying to keep these gains moving forward.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, speaking this morning from Baghdad.

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