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Tuesday, March 23, 2010    

Petraeus requests West Bank, Gaza be included in Centcom's sphere

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military's Central Command has sought to expand its area of operations to include the Palestinian Authority.   

U.S. Centcom chief Gen. David Petraeus has urged the administration of President Barack Obama to include both the West Bank and Gaza Strip in his area of responsibility. Centcom has been responsible for most of the Middle East with the exception of Israel and much of North Africa. Israel as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been located in U.S. European Command.

"Although some staff members have at various times, and I have discussed, asking for the Palestinian territories to be added to it [Centcom], I have not made this a formal recommendation for the unified command," Petraeus said.

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In testimony to the Senate Armed Forces Committee on March 16, Petraeus said his recommendation to include the West Bank and Gaza Strip in Centcom's area of responsibility took into account the impact of Israeli-Palestinian developments on the rest of the Middle East. He said Centcom has been in close contact and cooperation with U.S. security and diplomatic missions in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"We keep a very close eye on what goes on there because of the impact it has on that part of Centcom, the Arab world," Petraeus said.

The general cited Jordan, within Centcom's area of responsibility, as hosting PA security forces in the U.S.-financed International Police Training Center. He said Centcom has worked with U.S. security coordinator Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton as well as U.S. special envoy George Mitchell.

"We support these efforts, as they are critical to the continued development of legitimate security forces throughout the region, especially in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories and, as a consequence, will be important to the long term viability of the Middle East peace process," Petraeus said.

Officials said Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has also supported the expansion of Centcom to include the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In Februrary 2010, Mullen, during a visit to Israel, held a long meeting with Dayton, responsible for U.S.-financed training programs of PA security forces.

The U.S. magazine Foreign Policy reported that in 2009 Petraeus urged the White House to make the West Bank and Gaza part of Centcom's area of operations. said Petraeus argued that the U.S. military must be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged in efforts to help form a Palestinian state.

At the hearing, the general said Centcom has supported Mitchell's efforts to prepare for a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. He said Centcom has been briefing Mitchell during his visits to Arab allies of the United States.

Still, the Foreign Policy report, issued on March 15, said Centcom has been dismissive of Mitchell. The Web site quoted a senior Pentagon officer as saying that the 76-year-old former U.S. senator was "too old, too slow ... and too late."

The Pentagon officer was quoted as recalling a Centcom tour of the Middle East in December 2009. The tour, which included meetings with Arab leaders, was marked by widespread criticism of U.S. policy and a perception that Washington was withdrawing from the region.

"America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding," the officer said.

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