July 10, 2008 / 7:44 PM / 9 years ago

US Senate confirms Petraeus for Middle East command

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WASHINGTON, July 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly confirmed Army Gen. David Petraeus as commander of the military headquarters responsible for U.S. operations across the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Senate confirmed him by a vote of 95-2.

It also confirmed 96-1 the nomination of Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno as top commander in Iraq, replacing Petraeus. Odierno, who previously served as Petraeus' deputy in the war, will be promoted to full general.

Central Command is considered the toughest regional military command to lead.

Petraeus and Odierno together implemented a new military strategy credited with helping drive down violence in Iraq.

As head of Central Command, Petraeus will oversee military operations in a region that includes Iran, Pakistan and 25 other countries as well as strategically and economically significant international waters, including the Gulf.

He will take charge at a time of heightened tensions with Iran, which test-fired missiles this week that Tehran says can reach Israel and U.S. assets in the region.

Petraeus also faces what U.S. officials say is a renewed threat from al Qaeda in Pakistan and rising violence in Afghanistan.

"We all share a concern about the worsening situation in Afghanistan," said Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican, calling that war a top priority for Petraeus.

"We're fortunate that he is imminently qualified, having studied the culture of the region, having understood the complexity, the geopolitical situation with regard to Pakistan and Iran. He is just imminently qualified to step in and be the commander of those forces in that region."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, when he picked Petraeus to lead that command in April, called the general the most qualified officer to manage counterinsurgency operations in both wars and grapple with threats from Islamist extremism throughout the region.

In a Senate speech praising Petraeus and Odierno, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said problems in the region "must be managed with a steady hand" and both men were "well prepared for their next responsibilities."

Petraeus' nomination followed the resignation of Adm. William Fallon after a reported break with the Bush administration over Iran policy. (Editing by Todd Eastham)

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