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US Senate Confirms Casey as Army Chief of Staff

The U.S. Senate has confirmed General George Casey, who had been the top American general in Iraq, as Army chief of staff. But the vote was far from unanimous, reflecting congressional concern about how the Iraq war has been waged. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The Senate voted 83 to 14 to confirm General Casey, with 10 Republicans opposing the nomination.

There was some irony in the debate leading up to the vote. Some members of the Democratic majority, who have criticized the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war, expressed their support for the nominee, while some Republicans, who have been staunch supporters of the war effort, argued against the nomination.

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, endorsed the four-star general, who has commanded the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq since June 2004.

"General Casey knows Iraq," he said. "He knows the challenges that the army faces there. He also knows the Pentagon, and the challenges he will face there. General Casey has the knowledge to perform his primary responsibilities as chief of staff, which is the training and equipping of soldiers and caring for them and their families."

While expressing his support for Casey, Senator Levin made clear he remains opposed to President Bush's decision to send additional troops to Iraq.

But Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a key supporter of the president's Iraq strategy, strongly opposed Casey's nomination, saying the general misjudged the prospects of stabilizing Iraq and has been overly optimistic about the situation in the country.

"I have questioned in the past and question today a number of the decisions and judgments that General Casey has made over the past two and a half years. During that time, conditions in Iraq have gotten markedly and progressively worse. The situation can now best be described as dire and deteriorating," he said.

But Levin said General Casey merely implemented decisions made by top civilian leaders in the Bush administration, including the president, and should not be held accountable for their failed policy in Iraq.

"To vote against him because of the major mistakes which led to this chaos, which were not the uniformed leaders' mistakes, but civilian leaders' mistakes, it seems to me is inappropriate, unfair," he said.

The top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner of Virginia, who also opposes the president's troop surge plan, agreed with Levin. He noted that General Casey admitted during his confirmation hearings that errors were made in the execution of the war.

"He recognizes mistakes were made," he said. "I think he has accepted that level of accountability he as a military officer had. But indeed, it is the civilians above him, if there is greater wrong, that should be held accountable."

Warner has sponsored a non-binding resolution expressing disagreement with the president's decision to send more combat troops to Iraq. But he joined his fellow Republicans earlier this week in blocking the measure from getting Senate action in an effort to pressure Democratic leaders to allow other Republican-sponsored resolutions to come to a vote on the Senate floor.

Casey succeeds retiring General Peter Schoomaker as Army chief of staff.

Casey has been replaced as top commander in Iraq by General David Petraeus.

Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Admiral William Fallon as chief commander of U.S. Central Command - a post in which he will oversee military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate also confirmed retired Navy Admiral Mike McConnell to replace John Negroponte as director of national intelligence.

The Senate approved the nominations of Fallon and McConnell on voice vote with no debate.