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Context of 'December 5, 2001: Head of US Marines Not Allowed to Send His Troops to Tora Bora'

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Official logo of US Central Command (CENTCOM), one of the nine military commands established under the Defense Reorganization Act.Official logo of US Central Command (CENTCOM), one of the nine military commands established under the Defense Reorganization Act. [Source: Public domain]President Reagan signs into law the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, originally sponsored by Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and Representative Bill Nichols (D-AL). Goldwater-Nichols, as it is sometimes called, sparks the largest reorganization of the US military since the National Security Act of 1947. Operational authority is centralized through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as opposed to the actual service chiefs themselves. The chairman is designated as the primary military adviser to the president, the National Security Council (NSC), and the secretary of defense. The legislation also reorganizes the military command structure into several “commands”:
bullet By geographical region (Northern Command, or NORTHCOM; Central Command, or CENTCOM; European Command, or EUCOM; Pacific Command, or PACOM; and Southern Command, or SOUTHCOM); and
bullet By function (Joint Forces Command, or JFCOM; Special Operations Command, or SOCOM; Strategic Command, or STRATCOM; and Transportation Command, or TRANSCOM). [Statement on Signing the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, 10/1/1986 pdf file; Lederman, 1999; Wilson, 2004, pp. 212; US Air Force Air University, 11/21/2007; National Defense University Library, 2/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, US Transportation Command, Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act, Barry Goldwater, US Strategic Command, Bill Nichols, US Special Operations Command, US Pacific Command, US European Command, US Central Command, US Northern Command, US Southern Command, US Joint Forces Command

Timeline Tags: US Military

The commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), which encompasses the area of Afghanistan, issues an order instructing that the Geneva Conventions are to be applied to all captured individuals. [Wallach, 9/29/2004]

Entity Tags: US Central Command

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis.Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis. [Source: US Navy]About 4,000 US marines have arrived in Afghanistan by now. Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of these troops, is convinced his forces can seal the Tora Bora area to trap bin Laden there. Around this date, Mattis argues strongly to his military superiors at Centcom that his troops should fight at Tora Bora, but he is turned down. The New York Times will later report that the Bush administration will eventually secretly conclude “that the refusal of Centcom to dispatch the marines—along with their failure to commit US ground forces to Afghanistan generally—was the gravest error of the war.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005]

Entity Tags: James N. Mattis, US Central Command

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Former Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General Anthony Zinni, a critic of the push for war with Iraq (see October 10, 2002), says that he “bristle[s] against ideas of small forces” in any possible invasion of Iraq, directly contradicting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s constant exhortation to “do it smaller.” The US will need to maintain order in Iraq during a lengthy and fractious period of transition to self-rule, Zinni warns, and to do that properly will require a large number of troops. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 141] Zinni publicly spoke out against the invasion earlier in the month (see October 10, 2002).

Entity Tags: US Central Command, Donald Rumsfeld, Anthony Zinni

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Admiral William J. Fallon takes over the United States Central Command (Centcom), replacing the retiring General John P. Abizaid. Fallon, a decorated Vietnam veteran pilot, formerly led the US Pacific Command (Pacom). Fallon now commands the US forces throughout the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and the Horn of Africa, and is in charge of strategic and tactical operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Fallon is the first naval officer to command Centcom. Fallon was nominated for the position by President Bush in January, and was easily confirmed by the Senate in February. [US Central Command, 3/16/2007]
Fallon In Place to Oversee Strike on Iran? - Many observers see Fallon’s new command as a sign that the Bush administration is preparing for war with Iran. Fallon’s position is not a promotion, but a lateral transfer—as commander of Pacom, he actually commanded more forces than he does at Centcom, and Fallon will not have the direct control of the forces in Iraq, which remain under the day-to-day command of General David Petraeus. Fallon is a naval officer, with no real experience in commanding large numbers of ground troops, but a great deal of experience in commanding and deploying carrier groups. Centcom’s primary responsibility is on the ground, battling insurgents and warlords in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Nation’s Michael Klare observes, “If engagement with Iran and Syria was even remotely on the agenda, Abizaid is exactly the man you’d want on the job at Centcom overseeing US forces and strategy in the region. But if that’s not on the agenda, if you’re thinking instead of using force against Iran and/or Syria, then Admiral Fallon is exactly the man you’d want at Centcom.” Fallon’s experience is in air and naval operations, the kind of operations that would lead any US strikes against Iran. [Nation, 1/10/2007] Former Defense Intelligence Agency official W. Patrick Lang says of Fallon’s appointment, “It makes very little sense that a person with [Fallon’s naval] background should be appointed to be theater commander in a theater in which two essentially ‘ground’ wars are being fought, unless it is intended to conduct yet another war which will be different in character. The employment of Admiral Fallon suggests that they are thinking about something that is not a ground campaign.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Fallon Won't Countenance Attack on Iran - However, other events indicate Fallon may not be as gung-ho for a war with Iran as some now perceive. In February, Fallon privately expressed his opposition to the proposed increase of US carrier groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three, and told administration officials an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch” (see February 2007).

Entity Tags: Patrick Lang, George W. Bush, George Casey, Defense Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, Iraq Study Group, Michael Klare, William Fallon, John P. Abizaid, Robert M. Gates, US Pacific Command, US Central Command

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran


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