WASHINGTON – An Arabic-speaking Army general of Lebanese descent has been nominated to replace Gen. Tommy Franks as head of U.S. Central Command, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.
The nomination of Lt. Gen. John Abizaid (search), currently second-in-command under Franks, was widely expected since Franks announced last month he would retire this summer.
Abizaid must be confirmed by the Senate before taking the reins at Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia, including Iraq and a large swath of the Middle East.
Abizaid, a grandson of Lebanese immigrants, speaks fluent Arabic, which he studied at a university in Jordan. He also holds a master's degree in Middle East studies (search) from Harvard and has said he loves the region's people and culture.
Abizaid referred to that background during a news conference at the height of combat in Iraq.
"I'm a soldier and I do my best, but I would say, as a person who has studied the Arab world and loves the Arab world, that the majority of educated Arabs that I talk to know that Saddam Hussein has been a plague on the Arab world and on his own people, and they welcome his removal," Abizaid said March 23.
If confirmed, he will take control of the ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the hunt for terrorists in the region which has been the home base of Al Qaeda.
"You begin with the fact that he's a great soldier," retired Army Gen. Bill Nash said about Abizaid in March. "And then you add to that the fact that he is savvy to the world of political military affairs.
"And of course, in this particular case, his unique qualification is that he is fluent in Arabic and understands that region extremely well," said Nash, who has known Abizaid for over 20 years. They worked together most recently in Kosovo (search).
Before becoming the No. 2 general at Central Command, Abizaid held two top positions for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.
He also has served as commandant of the military academy at West Point, commander of a battalion providing humanitarian relief in northern Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and company commander during the 1983 invasion of Grenada.