Saturday 22 March 2008
Washington - The Pentagon on Friday ruled out including Adm. William Fallon as a witness before Congress when the top U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Baghdad testify next month on the way ahead in Iraq.
Fallon's abrupt announcement March 11 that he was resigning, effective March 31, as chief of U.S. Central Command overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan triggered accusations by Democrats in Congress that he was being forced out for publicly opposing launching a war against Iran.
In declaring that Fallon would not join Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker as witnesses before Congress next month, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the decision had nothing to do with Fallon's views on Iran or the reasons for his unexpected resignation and retirement.
"I know there have been requests, in fact, from members of Congress to have Adm. Fallon testify with Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, and I can tell you that Adm. Fallon will not be testifying" with them, Morrell told a Pentagon news conference.
Fallon was at the Pentagon on Thursday to join Gates in a video-teleconference meeting with Petraeus in which Fallon and Petraeus gave their views on troop reductions and other issues in Iraq, Morrell said. He said Gates met Friday morning with the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, as well as Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to hear their views on Iraq.
The White House has said Bush plans to come to the Pentagon next week to consult with the Joint Chiefs, in the same manner as he did last summer and in the fall of 2006 prior to major Iraq war decisions.
Petraeus and Crocker are due to testify on Capitol Hill on April 8 and 9, and shortly after that, Bush is expected to publicly announce his decision on how to proceed with troop withdrawals in the second half of the year.
Although he is giving up his command, Fallon will remain on active duty until his retirement later this spring. His deputy, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, is scheduled to become acting Central Command commander when Fallon leaves March 31. No permanent replacement has been nominated, and Morrell said Friday that a successor is unlikely to be in place before May.
"We're at the very beginning stages of that process," the spokesman said.
Morrell said he did not know if Gates personally objects to having Fallon testify alongside Petraeus and Crocker.
Fallon is known to have differed with Petraeus over the pace and scope of U.S. troop drawdowns this year in Iraq, although Petraeus said after Fallon's resignation that they had recently come to a common view.
Petraeus is expected to recommend to Bush that after completing the current scheduled reduction of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from the peak of 20 last year to 15 by the end of July, there should be a "period of assessment" before resuming the drawdown.
Morrell said Gates and Fallon have both endorsed that concept, although the details are not settled. Administration officials have said the pause in troop withdrawals likely would be at least a month or two, with the expectation that the drawdown would resume before Bush leaves office in January.
There are now about 158,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The number is expected to fall to about 140,000 by the end of July.