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Garner seeks to reprise his success

By Patrick Cooper

Retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner
Retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner

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The U.S. tapped Gen. Jay Garner to guide Iraq to democracy. Critics are skeptical of his background in military and civilian life; others say he's the right man. CNN's David Mattingly reports. (April 17)
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(CNN) -- Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner has returned to the Pentagon, but the timing of his return to Iraq is yet to be determined.

Garner is eventually to become the "interim transitional civil administrator" of Iraq -- a title as carefully worded as any.

Now biding his time in Kuwait, he is set to take on the tenuous diplomatic role of transitioning Iraq to a new civilian government.

The 64-year-old now leads the Defense Department's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. The office soon will divide Iraq into three "sectors" for implementing aid, rebuilding and the installation of post-Saddam leaders.

Despite the Pentagon's consistent avowals of Garner's temporary status, his powerful role has raised questions in the Middle East, where many leaders fear the United States might impose control.

While Garner has kept quiet in Kuwait, canceling his debut press conference on Monday, others have worried he and the United States would not do enough.

Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi complained Wednesday of shortfalls already occurring in Iraqi cities like Nasiriya.

"Where is General Garner now?" Chalabi asked in a CNN interview. "The people need assistance here in Nasiriya. Why are they not here? Why don't they work to rehabilitate the electricity and water? Why don't they start working on the curriculum? Why are they in Kuwait?"

Garner will report to chief of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Tommy Franks, but he will be on the hot seat to successfully reprise and expand the role he held after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Following the war, he ran Operation Provide Comfort, the U.S. military effort to help fleeing Kurds in northern Iraq.

Iraqi forces had crushed the Kurds' attempt at rebellion, creating millions of refugees, and U.S. forces began a ground and airdrop effort to provide relief and security.

Between April and September 1991, Operation Provide Comfort flew more than 40,000 sorties, relocated hundreds of thousands refugees and brought in more than 32 million pounds (14.4 million kilograms) of supplies, according to the Pentagon.

The operation's commander, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili (who later became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), told a congressional committee Garner's work on the refugee camps was "masterful" and "outstanding."

Garner's other leadership experiences have been primarily in the Army.

Born in Arcadia, Florida, he attended Florida State University and enlisted in the Army after graduating.

He served in Vietnam as a military adviser and worked his way up the ranks throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Garner retired from the Army in 1997 as a three-star general and entered the private sector defense field.

He became president of SY Technology, now the SY Coleman division of L-3 Communications, a leading contractor for missile-defense systems.

During his military career, he briefly served as commanding general of the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense command.

Like President Bush, he embraced the high-technology approach of laser defense.

"The reality of using high-energy lasers in killing systems has finally come of age," he wrote in a 2000 Army magazine article.

But when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld came calling in January, Garner took leave from his corporate work to rejoin the Pentagon.

He was put in charge of a staff of more than 150 government officials and hundreds of private sector personnel. Originally in Washington, the staff recently moved to Kuwait.

Once their work in Iraq begins, defense officials estimate it will take at least six months to hand off control of the country to the Iraqi people.

One wildcard issue will be Garner's signing of an October 2000 statement blaming Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority for ongoing violence in Israel.

Dozens of retired American military officers signed the statement, produced in conjunction with the Washington-based Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Garner also earlier attended a JINSA-led trip to Israel.

Although Iraq and Israel historically have been hostile JINSA issued a statement in late March defending Garner's trip:

"The idea that 10 days in the company of JINSA, traveling in a democratic and friendly country, would fundamentally alter his understanding of the requirements of American policy in Iraq is ludicrous and highly offensive."

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