March 28, 2008 / 7:07 PM / 10 years ago

Top US commander for Middle East leaves job

By Kristin Roberts

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Florida, March 28 (Reuters) - Adm. William Fallon gave up his command over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Friday, after a magazine portrayed him as opposing President George W. Bush’s Iran policy.

Fallon, who handed over his responsibilities to his deputy, will resign from active duty altogether in May, ending a 40-year military career.

Senior military officers said he never shirked from strong leadership and tough, straight talk both with allies and potential adversaries.

"His time here has advanced America’s interests and security," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a ceremony in Florida marking Fallon’s departure.

Fallon’s resignation after just over a year at U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, came after an Esquire magazine article portrayed him as the man standing between Bush and war with Iran.

The article described him as challenging the White House and urging restraint. It deepened an already existing perception that the 63-year-old admiral was at odds with Bush.

Fallon cooperated with the author during the article’s preparation but criticized the story after it appeared. He said he did not disagree with the president but that the perception that he did made it difficult to do his job.

The admiral praised Bush’s leadership in his final comments to troops in Florida, saying the president aimed to "get the job done and to do it right."

"For that leadership and example I am grateful," he said.


Gates on Friday called Fallon "one of the military’s best strategic minds" and praised him for military and diplomatic skills demonstrated in his year leading Central Command.

Previously, Fallon led Pacific Command, where he pursued better relations and dialogue with China, whose rapid military modernization plans have raised concerns inside the Pentagon.

"The Middle East as a whole has benefited from Adm. Fallon’s leadership as he has applied the same strategic thinking diplomatic skills that were on display during his leadership of Pacific Command," Gates said.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that thanks to Fallon, the military could better understand the complex environments in which troops serve.

"He has put us in a position to execute so well today, to understand what we need to do and do better under the complexities of the world in which we live," Mullen said.

But Fallon had his critics. Some U.S. defense officials said he was too willing to express opposing views in public.

He was also said to have a strained relationship with Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Fallon denied this and on Friday called Petraeus a "brilliant officer" and "the principal instrument of success" in Iraq.

Fallon’s deputy, Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, will run Central Command until a long-term successor is found, probably some time after May.

(Editing by Alan Elsner)

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