Thursday, March 13, 2008

Current and former military officials welcomed the resignation of Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, saying he failed to prevent foreign fighters and munitions from entering Iraq.

They said “there was no misperception” regarding Adm. Fallon’s “non-warrior” approach to handling foreign involvement in the region.

“The fact is that [Central Command] had the external responsibility to protect our troops in Iraq from the outside and under Fallon they failed to do it,” said retired Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, a military analyst. “We have done nothing to protect our soldiers from external threats in Iraq.”

Others said Adm. Fallon was pushed to resign.

“No matter what [Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates] said [Tuesday], we know for a fact Admiral Fallon was fired,” said a former senior Defense official who works closely with military officials in the region. “We have kids — soldiers — getting killed because Iran, Syria and other foreign fighters are coming across the border into Iraq, and yet Fallon was unwilling to do anything to hold [those nations] accountable.”

Adm. Fallon announced his retirement Tuesday, saying he had no substantial disagreements with the White House on the Middle East but that the “disconnect between my views and the president’s policy objectives” had become a distraction.

Mr. Gates, who accepted the admiral’s resignation, said it was a “misperception” that the commander was at odds with White House policies on Iran.

“I don’t believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command area of responsibility,” Adm. Fallon said, and he regretted “the simple perception that there is.”

Adm. Fallon, who was in Iraq yesterday, could not be reached for comment.

Speculation that the Bush administration planned to wage war with Iran was based in part on an article published in Esquire last week that described Adm. Fallon as the lone voice against the administration’s hard-line policies.

The senior military official said Adm. Fallon’s interview with Esquire “showed his lack of reason when it came to Iran’s influence in the region.”

A military official close to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Gen. Petraeus and Adm. Fallon had developed a friendship over the past six months despite their different perspectives on the war.

“They had just finished a monthlong process where they completed a shared recommendation for the future of Iraq,” said the official, adding that the recommendation is the report Gen. Petraeus will deliver to Congress next month.

Gen. Petraeus said yesterday that he will miss the admiral. “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,” he said in a statement.

“Admiral Fallon has been a true warrior and we will miss him,” he said.

Other military officials said Adm. Fallon’s public and private disagreements with senior military and White House officials were genuine.

The disagreements made it difficult for Gen. Petraeus to do “what he needed to do to protect coalition forces and civilians” from attacks by foreign fighters, as Adm. Fallon was looking to reach out with diplomatic rather than military solutions, said another military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A Pentagon report, “Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq,” released Tuesday, emphasized that as much as 90 percent of the foreign fighters in Iraq cross the border from Syria and that Iran’s support for Shi’ite militants is hurting efforts to improve security in Iraq.

The Defense Department’s quarterly report — from December to February — said militants continue to find safe havens and logistical support in Syria. It also states that Tehran’s support for Shi’ite militant groups remains a sizable threat to stability in Iraq. The Quds Force, the elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, still provides much of the munitions for militants inside the country, the report said.

Military intelligence officials said many of these foreign fighters are finding sanctuary along Iran’s border region as well.

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