Middle East Region Critical to World, Fallon Says
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2007 Acknowledging the immense security challenges in the Middle East, President Bush’s pick for command of U.S. forces there said today that he is eager to work with U.S. troops in the region and is optimistic about the future of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’m under no illusion regarding the magnitude of the task and the challenges we face in this region of the world,” Navy Adm. William J. Fallon said at his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing to become commander of U.S. Central Command. “From Beirut to Kashmir, conflict and areas of instability abound. Yet, as you well know, this region with 630-some million people, the cradle of Western civilization, is of critical importance to our nation and the world.”
Fallon, who currently heads U.S. Pacific Command, was nominated by Bush on Jan. 17 to take over CENTCOM from Army Gen. John Abizaid, who has commanded since July 7, 2003, and is due to retire in the spring.
The United States faces challenges in Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Horn of Africa, and other nations in the region, Fallon said today. However, Iraq remains the top priority for CENTCOM, he emphasized.
“I believe the situation in Iraq can be turned around, but time is short,” Fallon said. “There are no guarantees, but you can depend on me for my best effort. I draw confidence in the indomitable spirit and skilled dedication of our servicemen and women.”
The United States clearly needs a new way forward in Iraq, and that should include a focus on securing the Iraqi population, Fallon said, supporting the comments of Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus in his Jan. 23 confirmation hearing to become commander of Multinational Force Iraq.
“It seems pretty obvious to me that what we have been doing has not been working,” Fallon said. “There is a significant body of evidence that indicates that approaching an insurgency such as we’re facing now, … to be successful in this endeavor, historically, 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.”
Military action alone cannot solve the problems in Iraq, Fallon said. Economic development and a reinvigorated political process are essential to stabilizing the country, and the Defense Department will need help from other government agencies to make that happen, he said.
Fallon indicated he has not met with civilian political leadership in Iraq, but has observed Iraqi military units, and saw both good troops and leaders and some who need work. “The challenge I see is identifying those leaders that are going to be effective, those units that are trained or can be trained to do what needs to be done, and to encourage them to pick up the load,” he said.
Progress of Iraqi security forces must be underscored by strong actions from the Iraqi government, Fallon said. The Iraqi people lack confidence in their government, he said, so now is the time for leaders to act on their stated objectives and show their commitment to a unified, peaceful country.
“I recognize it’s difficult. … But unless this begins to happen, I doubt that we’re going to be effective in the military arena,” Fallon said.
The Iraqi government has a tough road ahead of it, Fallon noted. U.S. leaders may have erred in their assessment that the Iraqis were ready to take on all the challenges of democracy and security at once, he said and added that he looks forward to meeting with ambassadors and diplomats to form more realistic goals.
“Maybe we ought to redefine the goals here a little bit and do something that’s more realistic in terms of getting some progress, and then maybe take on the other things later,” he said.
In addition to the situation in Iraq, the United States faces challenges in Afghanistan and around the region, Fallon said. The Afghan government has made significant progress, but faces a resurgence of the Taliban, he said. Also, Iranian support for terrorism and sectarian violence is destabilizing and troubling.
“In addressing these and other challenges in the region, I would, if confirmed, solicit the opinions and suggestions of our allies and partners in the region and the world,” Fallon said.
Most people in the Middle East truly desire peace and stability, Fallon said. While there is more work to be done, U.S. and coalition forces have done a great job providing stability and security so the people’s dreams can be realized, he said.
“I am humbled by their service, dedication, courage and sacrifice,” Fallon said. “It would be my high honor to serve in Central Command with these great Americans and our coalition partners.”