STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
President Bush is expected to make significant changes in the coming days to the American military leadership in Iraq. The changes come as the president is about to announce a new strategy for the war in Iraq.
GEORGE W: I'll be ready to outline a strategy that will help the Iraqis achieve the objective of a country that can govern, sustain and defend itself sometime next week. I've still got consultations to go through.
INSKEEP: NPR's Guy Raz has been tracking the military changes here, and he's with us in the studio. Guy, good morning.
GUY RAZ: Good morning.
INSKEEP: First let's talk about the commander for U.S. forces across the Middle East. You're reporting that it's Admiral William Fallon. Why somebody from the Navy?
RAZ: Well, it's a somewhat surprising choice because essentially you're bringing in a naval officer to lead essentially two ground wars. We have a war in Afghanistan, a war in Iraq, so it is somewhat of a surprising choice that he will be taking over CENTCOM, or Central Command, which of course is the area that oversees all U.S. military forces in the Middle East and central Asia. But at the same time, Fallon is a - he's got a lot of combat experience. He served in Vietnam. He's a pilot. He served in the first Gulf War, and he's a senior commander. Right now, he commands Pacific Command, which is the area that oversees all of the Asia Pacific Rim.
INSKEEP: A vast job, and this is in some respects a diplomatic job, a political job.
RAZ: And in some ways a lateral move, you can say. I mean, Central Command is more visible, but he's one of what's called nine combatant commanders in the country.
INSKEEP: Or in the world.
RAZ: In the world, sorry.
INSKEEP: Yeah. Now who is actually going to be commanding the ground forces inside Iraq?
RAZ: This choice was less surprising. David Petraeus - Lieutenant General David Petraeus, and he's what you might call kind of a rock star of the senior military brass. There was a period of time in Iraq when it was almost de rigueur to go and profile General Davis. I myself went up there to Mosel where he commanded the 101st Airborne Division in 2003 into early 2004. And the reason why was because he was fairly successful in tamping down the violence using unconventional methods. For example, there is one very famous raid in November - I believe November, or December 2003 - where he sent his forces out basically to arrest about 35 insurgents. They arrested most of them, firing only a single shot that whole night.
INSKEEP: It turned out to be difficult to replicate his achievements elsewhere in Iraq, or even later on in Mosel.
RAZ: Absolutely. And once - essentially once Petraeus' 101st left Mosel, the situation there deteriorated very rapidly.
INSKEEP: So what changes are these new commanders likely to bring?
RAZ: Well I think for one they're not likely to oppose an increase. We've been hearing the term surge; they're not likely to oppose that in the near term. I think also they bring in a new vision. I mean, General Casey focused on what's called transition - General Casey, the current ground commander in Iraq - and that is training and equipping Iraqis to take over. In other words, the idea is to allow Americans to leave as soon as possible. I think these two leaders are going to be focusing on population security.
INSKEEP: So are you saying that this increase in troops, a temporary increase in troops, might be one of the things that President Bush talks about when he lays out a new Iraq strategy?
RAZ: I'm not prepared to say it's a foregone conclusion but, to put it simply, it's a foregone conclusion. I mean, the president is going to send in at least three brigades into Iraq. We're talking about 10 to 20,000 more ground forces in the country. It's not a surge. In other words, 20,000 new ones won't be coming in; he's going to extend the ones that are there and he's going to accelerate the ones that are about to leave for Iraq.
INSKEEP: Guy, thanks very much.
RAZ: Thank you.
INSKEEP: NPR's Guy Raz covers the U.S. military.
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