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US Middle East Commander to Retire

By Al Pessin
11 March 2008

The senior U.S. military officer responsible managing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. military engagement throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and East Africa, has decided to retire this month after a magazine article said he opposed administration policy toward Iran. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Admiral William Fallon informed Defense Secretary Robert Gates Tuesday he wants to retire because of press reports that, in the admiral's words, are "suggesting a disconnect" between his views and the president's policy. An article published in Esquire magazine this week portrays Admiral Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, as standing against many people in the Bush administration who, it says, want to go to war with Iran.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the admiral says he does not believe there have ever been any differences about policy objectives in his area of responsibility. But he says the perception of differences makes it difficult for him to effectively serve U.S. interests in the area.

Announcing Admiral Fallon's departure, Secretary Gates said he granted the retirement request "with reluctance and regret." He said there is no policy difference, only the perception of a difference. But in the end that was enough.

"Part of the problem here, and I think it's finally manifested in Admiral Fallon's decision that he communicated to me this morning is that we have tried between us to put this misperception behind us over a period of months, and frankly just have not been successful in doing so," said Robert Gates.

Secretary Gates said the decision was not based on any one article, but the Esquire profile of the admiral caused some stir in Washington. It called Fallon "the man between war and peace" and said he had defied the president by opposing war with Iran. The article, which did not attribute most of its assertions, also claimed Admiral Fallon might soon be fired, and that if that happened it could signal a move toward war.

Secretary Gates dismissed that claim.

"The notion that this decision portends anything in terms of a change in Iran policy is, to quote myself, ridiculous," he said.

Secretary Gates has called Admiral Fallon one of the best strategic thinkers in the U.S. military, and he said Tuesday the admiral's departure will leave a "hole' in his team. But Gates said the admiral's views on Iraq will be reflected in a report his command will submit later this month as part of an Iraq policy review.

The admiral's retirement takes effect at the end of the month, and will mark the end of his nearly 42 years of service. He had been expected to remain at Central Command at least until the end of the year. In that position, he is one of the top 10 operational commanders in the U.S. military. He is one of very few officers to hold four four-star commands during his career, and also one of few remaining in the U.S. military who served in Vietnam.

Secretary Gates said he led with "conviction, strategic vision, integrity and courage." President Bush said the admiral served "with great distinction," and gave him credit for what he called recent progress in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Admiral Fallon will be replaced temporarily by his deputy, Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey.

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