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Fallon resigns as Mideast military chief

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080311/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/fallon_resigns Fallon resigns as Mideast military chief By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer 28 minutes
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 11 5:40 PM
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080311/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/fallon_resigns

      Fallon resigns as Mideast military chief

      By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer 28 minutes ago

      WASHINGTON - The Navy admiral in charge of the wars in
      Iraq and Afghanistan announced Tuesday that he is
      resigning over press reports portraying him as opposed
      to President Bush's Iran policy.

      Adm. William J. Fallon, one of the most experienced
      officers in the U.S. military, said the reports were
      wrong but had become a distraction hampering his
      efforts in the Middle East. Fallon's area of
      responsibility includes Iran and stretches from
      Central Asia across the Middle East to the Horn of
      Africa.

      "I don't believe there have ever been any differences
      about the objectives of our policy in the Central
      Command area of responsibility," Fallon said, and he
      regretted "the simple perception that there is." He
      was in Iraq when he made the statement.

      Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Pentagon news
      conference that he accepted Fallon's request to resign
      and retire from the Navy, agreeing that the Iran issue
      had become a distraction. But Gates said repeatedly
      that he believed talk of Fallon opposing Bush on Iran
      was mistaken.

      "I don't think that there really were differences at
      all," Gates said, adding that Fallon was not pressured
      to leave.

      "He told me that, quote, 'The current embarrassing
      situation, public perception of differences between my
      views and administration policy, and the distraction
      this causes from the mission make this the right thing
      to do,' unquote," Gates told reporters.

      Fallon was the subject of an article published last
      week in Esquire magazine that portrayed him as at odds
      with a president eager to go to war with Iran. Titled
      "The Man Between War and Peace," it described Fallon
      as a lone voice against taking military action to stop
      the Iranian nuclear program.

      Gates said he did not think it was that article alone
      that prompted Fallon to quit. Rather, Gates thought it
      was "a cumulative kind of thing" that he and Fallon
      had failed to put "behind us."

      It is highly unusual for a senior commander to resign
      in wartime. Fallon took the post on March 16, 2007,
      succeeding Army Gen. John Abizaid, who retired after
      nearly four years in the job. Fallon was part of a new
      team of senior officials, including Gates, chosen by
      Bush to implement a revised Iraq war policy.

      Fallon's departure, effective March 31, is unlikely to
      have an immediate effect on conducting the wars in
      Iraq or Afghanistan. His top deputy at Central
      Command, Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, will take his
      place until a permanent successor is nominated by the
      president and confirmed by the Senate.

      Gen. David Petraeus, who runs the Iraq war from
      Baghdad but is technically subordinate to Fallon, was
      known to have differences with Fallon over the timing
      and pace of drawing down U.S. troops from Iraq. Fallon
      has favored a faster pullback.

      Petraeus issued a statement lauding Fallon's service.
      "Over the past year, he and I worked closely together
      as we charted a new course in Iraq and, more recently,
      developed a shared view on recommendations for the
      future," Petraeus said.

      Petraeus might be considered a candidate to succeed
      Fallon, although Gates said recently that Bush had
      made it clear to him that he wanted to keep Petraeus
      in Iraq until late this year. Petraeus is likely to
      get a second four-star assignment, and some believe it
      might be as the top U.S. commander in Europe.

      Some Democrats in Congress, including Senate Majority
      Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, seized on Fallon's
      resignation to assert that it reflected an effort by
      the Bush administration to stifle dissenting opinion.

      "I am concerned that the resignation of Admiral
      William J. Fallon, commander of all U.S. forces in the
      Middle East and a military leader with more than three
      decades of command experience, is yet another example
      that independence and the frank, open airing of
      experts' views are not welcomed in this
      administration," Reid said.

      Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the White
      House played no role in Fallon's move.

      "People should not misconstrue this as the price to be
      paid for speaking out within the Pentagon," Morrell
      said. "This is not indicative of a hostile environment
      toward free thinking. This is indicative of what sadly
      became a perception problem that dogged Admiral Fallon
      — this perception that he was in a different place
      than the president and the administration when it came
      to Iran."

      President Bush praised Fallon in a statement. "During
      his tenure at Centcom, Admiral Fallon's job has been
      to help ensure that America's military forces are
      ready to meet the threats of an often-troubled region
      of the world, and he deserves considerable credit for
      progress that has been made there, especially in Iraq
      and Afghanistan," Bush said.

      Gates dismissed as "ridiculous" any notion that
      Fallon's departure signals the United States is
      planning to go to war with Iran. Pressed on that
      point, he said, "As I say, the notion that this
      decision portends anything in terms of a change in
      Iran policy is, to quote myself, ridiculous."

      Morrell said it was too early to speculate on a
      successor to Fallon, who was a surprise choice for the
      job when Gates selected him on Jan. 5, 2007, calling
      him a great strategic thinker and innovator. The post
      had never before been held by a Navy admiral.

      Dempsey could be elevated to Central Command chief,
      although he already has been selected to head U.S.
      Army Europe. Another possible candidates for the
      Central Command post — considered one of the most
      important in the U.S. military — is Army Lt. Gen.
      Stanley McChrystal, who had just been named to a top
      post on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and who had been
      commander of U.S. special operations forces in Iraq.

      Another possibility is Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli,
      who serves as Gates' senior military assistant and is
      a former senior commander in Iraq.

      Fallon, 63, a veteran of the Vietnam War and a former
      vice chief of naval operations, has had a 41-year Navy
      career. He received his commission through the Navy
      ROTC program at Villanova University in 1967. Before
      taking the Central Command job he was commander of
      U.S. Pacific Command.
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