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Top US Commander in Middle East to Retire Early Next Year


The commander of American forces in the Middle East, U.S. Army General John Abizaid, has announced he will retire early next year.

General Abizaid has been the primary architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan since becoming head of the U.S. Central Command more than three years ago. The command is responsible for U.S. military operations in 27 countries from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia.

In testimony last month before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, General Abizaid rejected the idea of setting a specific timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. He also said American troop levels should remain unchanged, despite the mounting sectarian violence.

His announcement Wednesday comes just days after new Defense Secretary Robert Gates took over from former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and as President Bush plots a new strategy for the conflict in Iraq.

General Abizaid's four-year term as chief of CENTCOM had been due to end in July. It is not yet clear who will take his place.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.