Thu, Oct 02, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Heads should roll at Pentagon, ex-commander says


A former top US military commander called late Tuesday for the dismissal of key Pentagon officials, saying he was "disappointed" by their failure to properly plan for postwar developments in Iraq and warning that the US military could reach "the breaking point."

Retired Marine Corps general Anthony Zinni, who headed the US Central Command from 1997 to 2000, did not name the officials he would like to see leave.

But when asked on PBS television's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer if heads should roll at the Department of Defense, Zinni answered: "Absolutely."

"Any time we lose lives, any time we have miscalculated, any time we have to go back to the American people and ask for more treasure, more sacrifice and it was not calculated and it should have been, then somebody should be held responsible," he said.

He also made it clear he did not think highly of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the main driving force behind Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I'm disappointed in the planning for this operation," Zinni said when asked to assess Rumsfeld's performance. "I'm disappointed in what was advertised as transformation of the military. I have yet to see it. I don't understand it. I see a military that's very strained, that could reach the breaking point."

The interview marked the second time the no-nonsense former Centcom (Central Command) commander and Middle East special envoy blasted President George W. Bush's administration's handling of the war and military affairs in general.

Addressing a Marine Corps Association gathering on Sept. 4, Zinni suggested the US might be slipping into a new quagmire similar to the Vietnam War.

"I ask you, is it happening again?" the gravel-voiced general said in that speech. "And you're going to have to answer that question, just like the American people are."

In his PBS interview, Zinni appeared to take a step back, saying he did not believe the US was stuck in a quagmire in Iraq.

"But I do think we can't do business as usual," he stressed. "We can't just stay the course and keep doing the same things."

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