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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 15:20 GMT
Profile: Anthony Zinni
Anthony Zinni
Anthony Zinni has a reputation for a hands-on approach
Anthony Zinni is a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a four-star Marine general with a huge amount of military experience.

Although nicknamed 'The Godfather' - due, reportedly, to his Italian heritage - one of his key strengths is a reputation for political sensitivity, particularly in the volatile field of Middle East affairs.

In recent times, the now-retired general served as head of Central Command responsible for US forces in the Middle East, considered one of the most demanding positions in the US military


Coordinate everything with everybody... don't make enemies but if you do, don't treat them gently

Anthony Zinni

The youngest of four children, Anthony Zinni was born in Philadelphia in 1947 to Italian immigrants.

Attending the city's Villanova University, he signed up for a Marine officer program, following in the footsteps of his World War I veteran father.

Ironically, Zinni says he never intended to have a long military career.

'Hands on' style

He was sent to Vietnam as an infantry advisor to Vietnamese Marines in 1967 where the 'hands on' style he is now renowned for began to emerge.

Anthony Zinni and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Zinni has said he will stay in Israel until there is a breakthrough

During his time there, he lived with Vietnamese people, learned the language and had little contact with other Americans.

"I immersed myself in that culture," he told the Washington Post in 1998. "I saw the world differently than my peers ... I viewed it through my prism."

The general says his experience taught him the importance of developing understanding of different cultures, particularly non-Western ones.

Zinni was injured during his second tour of Vietnam in 1970, and once recovered was posted to Okinawa where he remained for the rest of the war.

Disillusioned with US tactics in Vietnam, during the 1980s, Zinni emerged as a fast-rising officer unafraid to challenge military convention.

Tough postings

In the 1990s he was employed in a series of command assignments, overseeing US military relief operations in Turkey and northern Iraq after the Gulf War and aiding earthquake victims in the former Soviet Union.

One of his most difficult jobs came in 1992 when he was posted to Somalia as head of the US force sent to protect aid supplies from local warlords.

Five years later he was appointed head of Central Command, responsible for 36,000 troops based in Saudi Arabia, at a time of heightened tension between the US and Iraq.

Characteristically, he began learning Arabic, read a string of books on Arab culture, and spent several months travelling to meet Arab leaders.

Before he retired last year, Zinni spent several months travelling across Central Asia attempting to improve US relations with a number of countries, including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

"War is the easy part," Zinni told the Washington Post.

His mission to attempt to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians could prove his hardest task yet.

See also:

30 Nov 01 | Middle East
Islamic Jihad claims Israeli bomb blast
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