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New US Commander Says Iraq Situation Can Be Salvaged

The U.S. Navy admiral nominated to take command of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, Central Asia and East Africa says the situation in Iraq can be salvaged, but it will require hard work by the military, Iraqi leaders and the country's neighbors. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Admiral William Fallon told the Senate Armed Services Committee he would not have agreed to lead U.S. Central Command if he did not believe there is a chance for success in Iraq, which he called the command's top priority.

"I believe the situation in Iraq can be turned around. But time is short," he said. "There are no guarantees. But you can depend on me for my best effort."

The admiral declined to be drawn into discussions of the specifics of President Bush's new security plan for Baghdad, including whether the planned 21,000 U.S. troop increase will be enough and whether their deployment will be contingent on promised Iraqi government actions. He said he and the new Iraq commander, General David Petraeus, need to work out the details of their approach.

"It seems pretty obvious to me that what we have been doing has not been working," he said. "We have not been getting the results that we desire. And we clearly have to do something different."

The admiral, who now commands U.S. forces in the Pacific region, said he was chosen for this job because he knows how to run a large regional command and because he has had success in Asia working with the governments of several countries to make progress on difficult security issues. He said he plans to play a similar role at Central Command, but he made clear he will not cede full responsibility to his subordinate ground commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There's an expectation that I'd be working outside the borders of Iraq to try to get the neighborhood, for example, to help us, and to try to work these other issues like Afghanistan," he said. "But I'm not going to hesitate to dive down and to ask the tough questions if I don't think we're getting results. And that's the key thing that's missing in this entire program of late is the results that are absolutely necessary if we're going to be able to wrap this up and get our troops back."

And Admiral Fallon said a lot of the responsibility for progress in Iraq is on the Iraqi military and government, whose leaders he has not yet met.

"I am anxious to see the kind of demonstrated leadership that I believe is essential for the Iraqi government to make progress with its people," he said. "But I'm also sensitive to the fact that this is a very challenging situation."

The admiral indicated that in some cases U.S. expectations have been too high, and that he might recommend focusing on a few key goals, while leaving other plans for later. He did not specify what those goals might be.

Regarding the other war that will come under his responsibility, Admiral Fallon described the situation in Afghanistan as "fragile," and said he hopes to work with its neighbors to see what more they can do to help.

"There's a lot that isn't being done," he said. "In fact, I see an awful lot of sitting and watching by the neighborhood. And it's high time that that changed."

The admiral praised Pakistan's efforts, but said even there more could be done, particularly if tensions with India continue to ease, potentially freeing more Pakistani military forces to operate in terrorist havens in the northwest of the country.

Admiral Fallon called Iran's role in his new region "destabilizing" and "troubling," and he did not rule out talking to Iranian officials about it. He said he has found in Asia that dialogue is useful at reducing tensions even when the two sides do not agree on everything. The admiral also mentioned the Horn of Africa as an area that will require his attention in the coming months, if he is confirmed by the Senate, as expected.

Senators on the Armed Services Committee from both political parties praised Admiral Fallon, indicating he will be confirmed by the full Senate, perhaps as early as this week. The committee chairman, Senator Carl Levin, said the admiral's experience in a diplomatic role in Asia will serve him well in his new command.

"One of the critical attributes that any geographic combatant commander must have is an ability to understand the geopolitical context of the region, as well as the political dynamics internal to the countries that comprise the region," he said.

The senior Republican Party senator on the committee, John McCain, who is expected to make a run for president, spoke of the urgency of Admiral Fallon's new duties.

"This war has been mishandled," he said. "No one doubts that mistakes have been made in Iraq. And no one disagrees that the consequences, a failed state there, are potentially catastrophic. This is probably our last opportunity, this change in strategy, to salvage a very difficult situation."

Admiral Fallon and General Petraeus are expected to be in their new commands within the next month, just as the additional U.S. troops are arriving and President Bush's new Iraq strategy is being implemented.