Fallon resigns as Mideast military chief
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
"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
"I don't think that there really were differences at
all," Gates said, adding that Fallon was not pressured
"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
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.