General Petraeus to head U.S. forces in Middle East
The move brings greater focus to the conflict in Afghanistan. Lt. Gen. Odierno is set to succeed Petraeus in Iraq.
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Petraeus himself is still expected to make an assessment of the security situation in Iraq by fall – 45 days after the last surge brigade has left Iraq in July – to determine if an additional brigade could return home without being replaced.Skip to next paragraph
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The nomination of Petraeus to the Central Command post, which was vacated last month when Adm. William "Fox" Fallon abruptly resigned, was not unexpected. It was originally thought Petraeus would become the commander of US European Command and the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO troops in Brussels. But after Admiral Fallon resigned, over his increasingly public views on Iran that appeared to be at odds with the White House, speculation centered on Petraeus to replace him.
The decision to send Petraeus to Central Command and Odierno back to Baghdad hints that there is a shallow bench of officers suited for the job in Iraq. Gates acknowledged that there are only a "handful of generals" who have the experience necessary, but also said the vacancy left by Fallon's resignation left him few options. "So I'm faced with a critical combatant command where a commander is needed and a commander who knows what's going on in the region," he said.
Odierno was seen as a tough and sometimes overly aggressive commander during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its aftermath. At the time, US Marines who handed over the command of the northern Sunni city of Tikrit to Odierno and his 4th Infantry Division complained of his "very aggressive" approach toward Iraqi civilians, and other officials thought he was indiscriminate in his "sweeps" of Iraqis that led to a swelling population at Abu Ghraib prison.
Since then, however, many believe he "got the memo," and has softened his touch. As Petraeus's deputy, Odierno was the day-to-day commander and implemented his boss's counterinsurgency strategy – protecting the local population while capturing or killing individuals fomenting violence against central, provincial, and local governments.
One military source requesting anonymity describes Petraeus as the "strategic thinker" and Odierno as the "tough operations guy."
Some believe that relationship has prepared Odierno well to become the chief strategist there.
Some observers in Baghdad say they will be watching how Odierno adapts to postsurge Iraq, where US forces are to drop down to about 140,000 – and gradually assuming more of an oversight role with Iraqi security forces by the time he arrives as early as late summer.
"Our ground forces' readiness and battles in Afghanistan and against al-Qaida in Pakistan have suffered as a result of the current costly Iraq strategy," Reid said in a statement. "These challenges will require fresh, independent, and creative thinking and, if directed by a new president, a commitment to implementing major changes in strategy."
Odierno had already been nominated to become vice chief of the Army. That nomination will be withdrawn and Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli will be nominated in his place. General Chiarelli, who had been on the short list to replace Petraeus in Iraq, has been Gates's senior military aide for more than a year.