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Senate Approves Gen. Abizaid to Head US Central Command - 2003-06-27

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Lieutenant General John Abizaid to succeed General Tommy Franks as commander of U.S. Central Command. As such, he will oversee U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other countries.

General Abizaid, who was confirmed by voice vote, will take over Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, after General Franks retires next month.

General Abizaid has been serving as General Franks' deputy. He takes over the post amid increasing concern about attacks on coalition forces from Iraqi resistance, and questions about the accuracy of U.S. intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week, General Abizaid said he believes Iraqi weapons will be found eventually. He said he thinks there will be, as he put it, 'more difficult days ahead' in Iraq, but he said he does not believe the situation will get worse.

"We will do everything we can to protect our soldiers, and maintain an offensive spirit, and take the fight to the enemy," he said. "Over time, we will bring the situation under control."

General Abizaid is a 30-year veteran of the Army. He has held positions on the military's Joint Staff, served as commander of a battalion providing humanitarian relief in northern Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and as assistant division commander of the First Armored Division in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Nominated by President Bush earlier this month, General Abizaid is the grandson of Lebanese immigrants, and speaks fluent Arabic.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner of Virginia, says General Abizaid is the perfect choice to lead Central Command.

"A unique perspective he brings to this post," said Senator Warner. "He is truly an expert and a student in this region. He is currently serving his fifth tour of duty in the Middle East. He is fluent in Arabic, and has a proud - and I underline this - a proud family heritage, closely tied to the cultures of this region of the world."

Central Command oversees a region that includes 25 countries in the Middle East, Gulf, Horn of Africa and South and Central Asia. The United States has about 250,000 troops in the area, more than half of them in Iraq.