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Bush Nominates Petraeus To Lead Central Command
"I would expect that General Petraeus would . . . carry out not only the evaluation, but that first decision in terms of, are we able to draw down another brigade combat team?" Gates said. Subsequently, the job of making regular weekly evaluations of troop levels would pass to Odierno, he said.
Another key question the three nominees will face if confirmed is how to balance the demands for U.S. ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan while also allowing U.S. troops more time at home to recuperate and train for other missions.
Top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, where a record 32,000 American troops are deployed, have asked for as many as three more brigades, which senior commanders say would be available only if drawdowns from Iraq continue. Pentagon officials are weighing whether the command structure in Afghanistan should be changed, Gates said, while the overall strategy for the country is also under review. Violence in Afghanistan increased sharply last year.
"One fascinating question will be the degree to which Petraeus's Iraq counterinsurgency doctrine will work in Afghanistan," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution.
The relatively close relationship between Odierno and Petraeus could make such decisions easier, in contrast to what officers described as friction last year between Petraeus and Adm. William J. "Fox" Fallon, who resigned abruptly as Centcom chief last month.
Indeed, military officials familiar with the relationship between Petraeus and Odierno said mutual trust would make it easier for Petraeus to turn his attention to pressing regional issues such as Iran, Pakistan and Lebanon while Odierno assumed the reins in Iraq. As Centcom chief, Petraeus would oversee more than 200,000 U.S. military personnel in the region.
"Petraeus has the opportunity to hand off with confidence and expand his area of control and responsibility," said Lt. Col. Nathan P. Freier, a former adviser to Odierno in Iraq.
Both Petraeus and Odierno have voiced concern that Iran is supporting insurgents and militiamen in Iraq who are attacking U.S. troops. The generals say Iran has provided training, funding, financing and sophisticated weapons.
In congressional testimony this month, Petraeus cited what he considers Iran's significant role in Iraq as the foremost problem in the region. But rather than push for a military confrontation with Iran, he is likely to focus on ways of minimizing its influence in Iraq.
Gates said the two commanders have identical views on Iran. "It is a hard position, because what the Iranians are doing is killing American servicemen and women inside Iraq," he said.
Retired Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff under whom Petraeus and Odierno both served, said Petraeus "is responsible for a stunning turnaround [in Iraq] and his knowledge of the region also is well known. He brings to Central Command . . . a stature and credibility to be able to operate in the region that is unprecedented."
Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.