That’s No Way to Fight Terror, Says Departing US Mid East Commander
In seven years, the Bush administration has lost half a dozen commanders involved, one way or another, in the US war in Iraq and fight against terror. The first to fall by the wayside was Gen. Tommy Franks, followed by Lt. Gen Ricardo Sanchez, Army Gen. George Casey, Army Gen. John Abizaid and the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff Gen. Peter Pace.
Donald Rumsfeld‘s name rightly belongs on this list. He stepped down as defense secretary in Dec. 2006 and has never defended himself against the grave criticism leveled against him, including by administration circles, for his management of the Iraq War.
The only general who ended his stint without falling out with the Bush administration was Air Force Gen. Richard Meyers, the former Joint Chiefs chairman.
Adm. William Fallon joined an illustrious company of American generals who chose to disagree with the Bush administration’s war policies when he stepped down as America’s chief of the Central Command and US forces in the Middle East, just eight days before the fifth anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq.
His departure did not bridge the widening gap between the Bush administration and parts of the military.
US forces spokesman in Iraq, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, reported March 9 that a cache of weapons had been discovered south of Baghdad with markings indicating recent manufacture in Iran. He also charged Tehran with recruiting Iraqis for training in Iran by Iranian instructors and by “handlers trained by Hizballah inside Iran” to act as recruiters and trainers in Iraq.
According to Smith, this information was gathered from Iraqi detainees who had undergone this training.
Iran was the trigger – not the cause – of Fallon’s resignation
The inference from these remarks was that the Bush administration’s efforts to forge limited understandings with Iran over security in Iraq had run into the sand. Not only was Iran actively involved in building up elements fighting US-led coalition forces in Iraq, but it had enlisted its Lebanese surrogate to the task as well.
Only last week, US Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno and Fallon himself accused Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after his visit to Baghdad of destabilizing Iraq.
Fallon’s simplistic portrayal as the lone military opponent of a US military attack on Iran does not do justice to his innovative thinking on contemporary warfare, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources.
The Esquire magazine article which embodied this portrayal may have generated the context and provided the trigger for Fallon’s resignation, but there were additional compelling and complex reasons for the rift widening between him and administration heads, President George W. Bush and defense secretary Robert Gates.
After all, by now, Washington’s military option against Iran’s covert nuclear weapons was more or less a dead letter, knocked down by the National Intelligence Estimate conclusion that the program had been shelved in 2003.
1. The dust raised by the NIE has not settled, whether overseas (See the article on the counter-estimate compiled by three Israel intelligence chiefs), or in the United States.
Bush and more persistently Vice President Richard Cheney are determinedly seeking the hand behind the document which wrought such havoc to America’s positions in the Gulf and Middle East. By shelving America’s military option, the estimate became Tehran’s license for carrying on developing nuclear weapons and expanding its influence far and wide – uninhibited by fear of attack.
Adm. Fallon’s name was recently bandied about in certain administration circles as one of the suspected hands stirring the NIE pot.
He questioned effectiveness of “surge”
On the other hand, some Washington sources suggested to DEBKA-Net Weekly that the Esquire article may have been planted by quarters seeking to set the scene for the Central Command chief’s exit.
Gates did not appear overly perturbed when he announced the resignation Tuesday. He said quite calmly: “Part of the problem here is… that we have tried between us to put this misperception behind us, over a period of months.” He added he was not sure why those efforts were unsuccessful.
2. Fallon also strongly challenged the assessments made by the US commanders in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Raymond Odierno, of the effectiveness of the “surge” strategy introduced in Iraq a year ago. Echoed by the White House, those commanders claimed major successes, whereas Fallon was convinced that the undeniable gains would melt away in the course of 2008 and early 2009. The US army would then find itself in worse straits than before.
He therefore took issue with the decision by the White House and the Pentagon, prodded by the Iraq commanders, to halt American pullbacks from Iraq after the surge troops are sent home in July. In Fallon’s view, troop reductions should be speeded up.
Indeed, in closed military forums, the departing CENTCOM commander voiced his conviction that, after seven years of fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and five years of warfare in Iraq, America must embark on major troop withdrawals from both these arenas.
This view tied in with his other major bones of contention with the White House.
The way warfare is conducted today, Fallon maintained, perpetuates outworn strategies and sets up a vicious cycle in which the US army goes round and round endlessly in a cage full of unsolvable conflicts. He proposed retooling US strategies and adjusting them to the realities of warfare against terrorists, especially in the Middle East.
No open-ended, protracted US deployments
The departing Middle East chief did not share the Iraq commanders’ belief in the long-term effectiveness of the Awakening Councils’ cooperation with US forces to fight al Qaeda and hard-core Sunni insurgents. He believed they had been infiltrated by these enemies and were being used by them to create new political bases for attacking US and Iraqi forces from havens safe from reprisal.
After a recent incident in which US troops killed or detained members of Sahwa (Awakening Councils) during an operation against insurgents, an American officer remarked that the line separating the Sunni insurgents from Sunnis working with the US military was nonexistent.
Although another officer, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, admitted at a news briefing on Feb.17 that individual al Qaeda or other extremists may have infiltrated some of the councils, he rejected the notion that any complete Sahwa councils had “gone bad.”
Small, swift, in-and-out operations for defined missions
3. Because of his friendly ties with President Pervez Musharraf and chief of staff Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Fallon promoted the deployment of US special forces, drones and the whole panoply of American strike and intelligence resources in Pakistan bases close to the Afghan border and within reach of al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds.
At the same time, he has come to believe it was a strategic blunder which would drag America into a more extensive military entanglement in Pakistan than in Iraq and ultimately lead to a major US offensive against Iran
4. The concept he developed for fighting terror calls for America’s armed forces to be fundamentally reorganized.
Fallon maintains that to preserve its No. 1 power status in the world, America must at all costs avoid having large-scale military forces pinned down in several simultaneous conflicts in different parts of the world.
This situation plays into the hands of the enemy, especially when fighting terrorist groups rather than a regular army. Field combat should be left to local armies with US support called in as needed – as in the case of the Lebanese army battling with Palestinian al Qaeda extremists near Tripoli; or, alternatively, to local forces which cooperate with the US army – such as elements of the Pakistan Army and Iraq’s Kurds.
Mobile US commando forces no bigger than 50-300 strong would intervene in such local conflicts only on limited missions, whether for tipping the scale of a battle or striking a defined strategic target. They would be equipped with armored vehicles for rapid and flexible movement and a sufficiency of firepower, augmented by air units and armed drones.
Long-term US military presence – never in hostile territory
Large-scale military deployments in embattled countries have been found to be too cumbersome to be effective and a gift to terrorists.
If the deployment of substantial manpower upward of 5,000 men is unavoidable, then arrangements must be made with friendly local powers to use existing bases or build easily dismantled facilities for quick exits.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources note that some essential elements of the Fallon concept may not contradict Washington’s long-term plans for Iraq, which would involve the Iraq government granting the US a long-term presence in four big bases, one at Baghdad's international airport, another at Talil near Al-Nasiriyah in the south, the third at the H-1 airstrip in the western desert, and the fourth at Bashur AB in the north.
These bases would be defended by American special forces, which would also be available for forays to prop up security in the country.
Fallon argues that if the security of southern bases hinges on understandings for sharing influence with Iran, then these understandings should be negotiated.
Above all, in his view, no longstanding US military footholds must be established in hostile territory, since the time, manpower, arms and money expended on their defense drains energy and resources away from their primary combat missions.
Endowing the American army with high mobility capabilities would facilitate the rapid transfer of forces between arenas – from Iraq to Afghanistan and back, for instance – without leaving sections of the front line bereft of defenders. It would render irrelevant the long wrangling in Washington over the proposal to pull all the Marines out of Iraq and move them to Afghanistan.
The changes inherent in the Fallon doctrine would demand a complete overhaul of America’s armed forces which the Bush White House is in no position to undertake.