US President George W Bush nominated Lieutenant General John Abizaid to replace General Tommy Franks as Commander of US forces in a region stretching from Egypt to Afghanistan, the Pentagon said.
Abizaid became a familiar face
during the US war against Iraq
Abizaid, who is of Lebanese origin, has been serving since December as Franks’ deputy in charge of US military operations in Iraq.
If confirmed by the Senate, Abizaid will take over Franks’ responsibilities as commander of all US troops in the Central Command’s area, a region where Washington has launched two wars in the past two years.
The region encompasses 25 countries in the Middle East and southwest Asia, including areas that Washington deems are hotspots such as Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Franks is planning to retire in early July but no date has been set for the new commander to take over.
Abizaid had been considered for the post of army chief of staff but his training and background made him an ideal choice as commander of the US Central Command, a position requiring diplomacy and military expertise.
The military zone Abizaid is slated to command holds the world’s largest oil reserves and is home to major trade routes through the Suez Canal and Red Sea.
The United States has about 250,000 troops in the region.
Abizaid's nomination needs to be
confirmed by the Senate
Abizaid will assume command at a time of dramatic changes in the region as a result of the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Besides the occupation of Iraq, he will also oversee the withdrawal of US forces from Saudi Arabia.
Abizaid speaks fluent Arabic and holds a Masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard.
He served as an operations officer with a United Nations observer group in Lebanon.
A West Point graduate, his 30-year military career has spanned US actions from Grenada to Kosovo.
Abizaid commanded an airborne battalion that deployed to northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War to protect Kurds from Iraqi troops as part of Operation Provide Comfort.
Abizaid served on the joint staff from October 2000 to December 2002, first for a year as Director of Strategic Plans and Policy and then as Director. This position put him at the centre of US military operations.