Petraeus Replacing Casey, Fallon Replacing Abizaid

The expected shakeup of the U.S. military command in Iraq has been announced, with Dave Petraeus replacing George Casey as ground forces commander and a Navy admiral replacing John Abizaid at CENTCOM.

President Bush has decided to name Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus as the top American military commander in Iraq, part of a broad revamping of the military team that will carry out the administration’s new Iraq strategy, administration officials said Thursday. In addition to the promotion of General Petraeus, who will replace Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the choice to succeed Gen. John P. Abizaid as the head of the Central Command is expected to be Adm. William J. Fallon, who is the top American military officer in the Pacific, officials said.

The changes are being made as the White House is considering an option to increase American combat power in Baghdad by five brigades as well as adding two battalions of reinforcements to the volatile province of Anbar in western Iraq.


Senior administration officials said that the choice of General Petraeus was part of a broader effort to change almost all of the top American officials in Iraq as Mr. Bush changes his strategy there. “The idea is to put the whole new team in at roughly the same time, and send some clear messages that we are trying a new approach,” a senior administration official said Thursday.

In addition to the military changes, Mr. Bush intends to appoint the ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, as the new United States ambassador to the United Nations, a senior administration official said Thursday.

“It was clearly time to move the players around on the field,” said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Mr. Bush had yet to announce the changes. “This helps the president to make the case that this is a fresh start.”

Admiral Fallon would be the first Navy officer to serve as the senior officer of the Central Command, which is managing simultaneous ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Admiral Fallon is regarded within the military as one of its stronger regional combat commanders, and his possible appointment also reflects a greater emphasis on countering Iranian power, a mission that relies heavily on naval forces and combat airpower to project American influence in the Persian Gulf.

General Petraeus, who is now the head of the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., helped oversee the drafting of the military’s comprehensive new manual on counterinsurgency. He has served two previous tours in Iraq, and some former officers say he sees the need for additional troops in Baghdad. He will replace General Casey, whose plan for troop reductions in Iraq faltered last year in the face of escalating sectarian strife and who initially expressed public wariness about any short-term increase in troops in Iraq, a move that is now a leading option under consideration by the White House.

Petraeus achieved, as an NPR reporter put it this morning, “rock star” status in Iraq with the 101st. His stint heading up the training of Iraqi security forces, however, was far less noteworthy. While I’m willing to chalk that up to the enormity of the task, it doesn’t lend confidence that he’ll work miracles with another star on his shoulder.

The choice of a former Navy pilot to head CENTCOM is something of a head scratcher, although mostly because it has always been considered a ground command. He has apparently made quite a reputation at PACOM:

Officials also said Admiral Fallon received a persuasive recommendation from the Joint Chiefs as one of the military’s stronger commanders of a geographic theater, with his current command including the challenges of North Korea and China. In that capacity, he also took the unusual and punitive move in December of canceling a large, annual field exercise with the Philippines over a local judge’s failure to honor the bilateral treaty governing protections for American military personnel. The judge refused to honor the agreement’s rule that American military personnel remain in American custody pending final appeal of all criminal proceedings against them, and ordered a marine convicted of rape held in a local jail even though the case was on appeal.

My sense of what the CENTCOM job should be was shaped by Norman Schwartzkopf in Desert Storm. Perhaps what we need now, though, is more akin to Dwight Eisenhower’s role in World War II.

Juan Cole is quite enthusiastic about this change, combined with the move of Khalilzad to the UN and Crocker to Iraq, headlining his post “The professionals take charge.” His conclusion is perhaps the most optimistic thing I’ve ever read on his site: “If the US in Iraq can possibly have a soft landing, these are the individuals who can pull it off. It is a big if.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    The choice of a former Navy pilot to head CENTCOM is something of a head scratcher, although mostly because it has always been considered a ground command.

    Ah, but it makes perfect sense if you want to attack Iran and only have the resources to do it from sea-based battle groups…

  2. LJD says:

    It will be interesting to watch these all-stars try to bring Iraq in line. At least more palatable than those in this country who will only find defeat in all of their (potential) sucesses.
    I don’t imagine they would be given a fair chance by some, even if they were J.C. himself. I would be interested to hear, from those of that mindset, what the alternatives are. Because an immediate and complete pullout is just not a rational answer.

  3. So General Abizaid and General Casey are not professionals according to Juan Cole. Perhaps the word professional means something different to partisan hacks masquerading as academics than to the rest of us.