San Diego Union-Tribune
December 12, 2007
Old Faces Get New Commands As U.S. Military Leaders Rotate Changes unlikely to affect strategy
By Robert Burns, Associated Press
WASHINGTON The U.S. military in Iraq is undergoing its biggest changeover in senior commanders since Gen. David Petraeus launched a new counterinsurgency strategy nearly a year ago.
The shifts come as U.S. troop levels begin to decline, Iraqis are handed more security responsibility and Petraeus seeks to ensure that the gains achieved over the past several months continue.
The leadership changes are likely to be disruptive, at least for a brief period, as the new commanders even those with Iraq experience adjust to rapidly changing conditions.
Even so, with the studied approach the Army and Marine Corps take to rotating units and commanders keeping the leaders informed daily of developments in Iraq, months in advance of their deployment it is unlikely that the switches will result in changes to Petraeus' strategy.
With the exception of Petraeus, senior commanders generally arrive and depart with their units, which means most of those now leaving or preparing to leave have been there for up to 15 months.
Topping the list of departures is Petraeus' second-in-command, Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, who is due to leave in February when the 3rd Corps finishes its command tour and returns to Fort Hood, Texas. He will be replaced by Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of 18th Airborne Corps, from Fort Bragg, N.C.
He's really done an amazing job with this counterinsurgency, said Frederick Kagan, a military historian at the American Enterprise Institute, referring to Odierno. He has it all at his fingertips, and there is no way that anyone could come in and immediately be functioning at that level.
Kagan foresaw temporary degradation in command effectiveness when Odierno leaves, tempered by the fact that Petraeus and his staff will remain to ensure a degree of continuity.
Like many of the arriving commanders, Austin has extensive Iraq war experience. He was assistant commander of the 3rd Infantry Division when it led the invasion in March 2003 and captured Baghdad a month later.
After a stint in Afghanistan, he was chief of staff at Central Command headquarters, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, including the Iraq war.
Conrad Crane, the main author of the U.S. military's new counterinsurgency doctrine, visited
Iraq last month at Petraeus' invitation to assess how it is being applied. Crane said it would be helpful if senior commanders served longer tours, because the personal connections these guys make are so important.
Still, he said he thought the switch-overs generally will work out OK.
It will probably help that many of the arriving commanders know Iraq well.
Maj. Gen. Jeffery W. Hammond scheduled to assume command of U.S. forces in Baghdad on Dec. 19, replacing Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil of the 1st Cavalry Division was an assistant division commander in Baghdad in 2004-05. Hammond now commands the 4th Infantry Division.
One of Hammond's two assistant division commanders, Brig. Gen. Will Grimsley, commanded the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, on the march to Baghdad at the start of the war. Grimsley's immediate superior at that point was Austin.
In western Iraq, the Marines are in command, led by Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin. He is to be replaced in February by Maj. Gen. John F. Kelly, who was assistant commander of the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division when it converged on Baghdad with the 3rd Infantry Division at the outset of the war. He did a second Iraq tour, in 2004, when the Marines replaced the Army in commanding forces in the west.
A new commander just arrived in Northern Iraq. Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling of the 1st Armored Division replaced Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon of the 25th Infantry Division in late October. Hertling served once before in Iraq with the 1st Armored Division.
The other major command area is south of Baghdad. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, is in charge there until summer.
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