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New U.S. Middle East Commander To Focus on Regional Diplomacy

30 January 2007

Admiral Fallon says troops must work closely with population to fight insurgency

Washington -- Admiral William Fallon, nominated to be the new U.S. commander in the Middle East, says he will focus on regional diplomacy and carrying out President Bush’s new Iraq plan, which calls for an American troop surge to help Iraqi forces reduce violence-wracked Baghdad neighborhoods.

Fallon says he wants to meet with regional governments to discuss Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s influence in Iraq.

“The situation in Iraq is serious and clearly in need of new and different actions,” Fallon said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee January 30. President Bush has nominated Fallon to be the new chief of the U.S. Central Command – responsible for U.S. military interests in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and much of Central Asia. Fallon’s nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.

Fallon currently heads the U.S. Pacific Command, where he has developed a reputation for effective strategic diplomacy while dealing with China, North Korea and successful counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines.

During the confirmation hearing, several senators expressed concern about President Bush’s plan to surge troops into Baghdad, but no senators voiced criticism of Fallon.

“The situation in Iraq will not be resolved solely through military means,” Fallon testified. Security, he said, “is but one aspect of what must be a comprehensive effort” that also includes economic development and a reinvigorated Iraqi political process.

“I believe the situation in Iraq can be turned around, but time is short,” Fallon told senators. “There are no guarantees, but you can depend on me for my best effort.”

Fallon said he has not been able to conduct an in-depth review of the Central Command area of operations, so he might want to make changes in how the troop-surge plan is carried out. President Bush announced January 10 that he is sending an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq – the majority of them to Baghdad and to al-Anbar province. The plan is aimed at assisting Iraqi security forces in taking control of neighborhoods torn by ethnic and political violence. (See related article.)

“It seems pretty clear to me that what we’ve been doing is not working,” Fallon said. “We clearly have to do something different.”

Fallon said his experience has shown him that, during an insurgency, it is crucial that security forces work as closely as possible with the local population they are trying to protect. There are significant historical examples showing that “you’ve had to get in amongst the population to convince them that you really care about them and that you are able to provide security on-scene rather than just passing through an area,” Fallon said.

In the southern Philippines, he said. U.S. and Philippine forces made “significant progress” using methods that are “very similar to what’s been outlined for us to pursue in Iraq. “

Historically, Iran and Iraq have been regional rivals. Fallon said that “Iranian activity, particularly regarding Iraq, has not been helpful to date.”

Iran’s support for terrorism and sectarian violence in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere, as well as its pursuit of nuclear weapons, “is destabilizing and troubling,” Fallon said. “I would welcome steps by the … Iranian government that would indicate they really are interested in helping the situation. To date, I haven’t seen that.”

Fallon said he intends to meet with regional governments and to work closely with diplomats to address Iran’s actions.

“There’s a lot that isn’t being done,” Fallon said. “In fact, I see an awful lot of sitting, watching by the ‘neighborhood.’ And it’s high time that changed. So I would be very anxious to try to engage and intend to engage with our State Department, Secretary [Condoleezza] Rice and her folks, to have a full understanding of this. And then maybe we can figure out collectively how to proceed.”

In written testimony to the Senate committee, Fallon said, “I sense that our allies in the region are more concerned about the potential threat posed by Iran now than at any time since the Iran-Iraq War.” He said “Iran’s political system is slowly changing as its people increasingly participate in representative processes. However, the unelected institutions of the Iranian regime are well entrenched, hold the preponderance of political power in Iran, and control of Iran’s military forces and intelligence services.”

See also Middle East and North Africa.

The full text (PDF, 30 pages) of Fallon’s responses to advance questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee is available on the committee’s Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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