Clinton names army man as military chief

WASHINGTON - President Bill Clinton last night announced he had chosen General John Shalikashvili, the US commander of Nato, as the new chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, writes Phil Reeves.

If his nomination is confirmed, the general, whose current job includes overseeing plans for air strikes in Bosnia, will replace General Colin Powell, a Bush appointee who is retiring after four years in the nation's highest military post.

General Shalikashvili, 57, is Polish-born, and is said by military analysts to have an extensive knowledge of Europe and the former Soviet bloc. His new job includes the crucial task of acting as military adviser to President Clinton, who has no military experience of his own and increasingly faces the complexities of formulating US policy in the post-Cold War era.

Mr Clinton's choice, which has been the subject of considerable recent speculation, is also significant because of the differences that have arisen between the White House and the military - particularly over spending cuts and plans to end the ban on homosexuals. Last night the four-star general said he was 'comfortable' with the Presidents 'don't ask, don't tell' compromise, and added that 'we are ready to move on with the decision our President has made'.

A former artillery officer, who emigrated to the US as a teenager, Gen Shalikashvili is the grandson of a Russian tsarist general and the son of a Georgian army officer. He is currently also the head of the US European command. During the Gulf war he supervised the relief operation to Kurds who fled to the mountains to escape Saddam Hussein's helicopter gunships.

Announcing the nomination, President Clinton said he was a 'soldier's soldier' and a 'proven warrior . . . who clearly understands the myriad of conflicts - ethnic, religious and political - which are currently ripping the world'. His decision was seen as highly unusual, as the chairman's job is usually rotated around the branches of the military. Gen Powell, who will depart in seven weeks' time, also wears army uniform. The two- year appointment is subject to confirmation by the Senate.

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