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Adm. Fallon Reflects on Leaving Pacific

By Richard Halloran

When Admiral William Fallon turns over the helm of the Pacific Command to Admiral Timothy Keating next month, he will leave behind what he says are "a lot of things that are works in progress."

"I leave this job with great reluctance and with no small sense of loss," he said in an interview. He noted in particular the relationships cultivated throughout the Asia-Pacific region in the two years he has commanded US forces from the west coast of North America to the east coast of Africa. He had planned to stay in this assignment for another year.

The admiral goes from the Pacific Command's relatively stable area of responsibility to take charge of the Central Command, with headquarters in Tampa, Florida, where he will be responsible for all US forces in the Middle East, including those in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and the Persian Gulf. In that turbulent region, the odds for success may be stacked against him.

Fallon acknowledged the thorny issues that will confront him in his new post where he plans to travel as much as he did in Pacific Command, meeting everyone from heads of government to soldiers who pull triggers. "Those nations have a slew of problems," he said. "There are not so many nations as in Pacific Command but they have more problems and problems that are more difficult to deal with."

Among the works in progress the admiral noted:

China With the backing of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Fallon has nurtured a gradual expansion of military exchanges with China. Those contacts are intended to assure the Chinese that the US is not planning to attack them but also to caution them not to miscalculate US military power.

An intriguing question: In his new assignment, will the admiral, who has visited China three times, seek help from China in Iraq or Afghanistan or in the war on terror? He declined to speculate on specifics. He noted that tensions between China and Taiwan had been reduced and that Pacific Command had been "working with Taiwan to build a credible defense."

Terror and Piracy In the southern Philippines, Fallon said, US special operations forces had achieved some success in helping the Filipino armed forces in their fight against Muslim terrorists known as Abu Sayyaf.

In the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Singaporean forces have reduced piracy and, so far, prevented a tie-up between pirates and terrorists. "They are doing it," Fallon said, "and we are helping in the background."

Contingency Plans The admiral said he had ordered the command's contingency plans, such as sending reinforcements to South Korea to fend off a North Korean invasion, to be overhauled and tested "to make sure we can do it."

Fallon said he had placed renewed emphasis on what military planners call "Phase Zero," which is to engage both friendly nations and potential adversaries in an effort to head off open conflict. "We did this so we would not have to employ the kinetic parts of the plan--not have to shoot'em up."

Posturing US Forces As part of the Global Posture Review initiated by former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Fallon surveyed US forces in the Asia-Pacific region to see whether they "were in locations and of the size appropriate for today and tomorrow."

This included a strategic review with Japan that led to plans for establishing a headquarters for a US Army corps there and moving 8000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, a new pivot point for US forces in this region. In addition, submarines and bombers are being based in Guam. A sixth aircraft carrier may be added to the Pacific fleet. A reduction of US troops in South Korea has begun and Fallon said "there will be additional changes in the future."

The admiral did a final assessment of Asian and Pacific nations having security arrangements with the US. Japan: "Reaffirmed commitment." Singapore: "Wonderful relations." Indonesia: "Renewed relations." India: "New partner." Australia: "Staunch ally."

Admiral Fallon said he had sent a team to brief Admiral Keating in Colorado where he heads the Northern Command responsible for US homeland security. Keating has served in Pacific Command in Hawaii and led an aircraft carrier group based in Japan. At one time, he commanded the Naval Strike Warfare Center in Nevada, perhaps best known as the site of the Navy's "Top Gun" competition.

Richard Halloran, a free lance writer in Honolulu, was a military correspondent for The New York Times for ten years. He can be reached at oranhall@hawaii.rr.com

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