AFP: US Admiral William Fallon was replaced Friday as head of US military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, a post he quit following reports he opposed President George W. Bush’s policy towards Iran. TAMPA, Florida (AFP) US Admiral William Fallon was replaced Friday as head of US military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, a post he quit following reports he opposed President George W. Bush’s policy towards Iran.
The number two commander overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, US Army Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, temporarily took charge of US Central Command in a ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
Dempsey takes over amid a search for a permanent successor to Fallon, 63, who abruptly announced his departure in mid-March shortly after publication of an article in Esquire magazine portraying Fallon as “The Man Between War and Peace” with Iran, which Washington has accused of pursuing nuclear weapons capability.
Fallon said he stepped down because the press reports created the perception that he opposed the president’s policy objectives — something he denied.
“Under Admiral Fallon’s command, the last year in Centcom’s area of operation has been one of great progress on a number of fronts” since early 2007, said Defense Secretary Robert Gates, describing the admiral as “one of the (military’s) best strategic minds in one of the world’s most complex regions.”
Gates, who has denied there was significant difference between Fallon’s views and those of the White House, cited the “tremendous gains that have been made in Iraq,” including a reduction of attacks on US troops and Iraqi civilians.
“Afghanistan too has seen successes over the last year — despite ongoing violence and despite the reality that, as in Iraq, there will be hard days ahead,” Gates said.
Dempsey takes up his duties amid rising tensions in Iraq, which has fallen prey to a resumption of Shiite militia violence in Baghdad and in the southern city of Basra, where the militias are battling Iraqi forces.
Afghanistan is witnessing a resurgence in Taliban violence.
Dempsey, a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, has served two tours in Iraq — first as head of US forces in Baghdad and then as the commander training and equipping Iraqi security forces.
“I am confident he is prepared to lead Centcom,” Gates said.
Dempsey emerged from the army’s ground forces, whereas Fallon rose out of the navy ranks and his nomination had been a surprise in a region marked by two land-based conflicts.
Among the potential nominees Bush could pick to head up US Central Command are Dempsey, as well as General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Iraq, or Gates’ top military advisor, General Peter Chiarelli.
In a brief address Fallon made no mention of any discord surrounding his resignation. He singled out Petraeus as a “brilliant officer” and the “principle instrument of success in Iraq”.