President Obama will nominate Gen. Lloyd Austin, vice chief of staff of the Army, to take command of Central Command, the Pentagon announced on Thursday.
The Army general was the last commanding general of the Iraq war, overseeing its final drawdown during Operation New Dawn. Austin will bring those skills to the military's regional command in charge of ending the Afghanistan war with a similar massive military drawdown to occur while furiously training up Afghan forces as U.S. troops exit.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, in a statement
, "During his final deployment to Iraq, Gen. Austin led our military efforts at a particularly important time, overseeing the drawdown of U.S. forces and equipment while simultaneously helping to ensure that hard-fought security gains were preserved and that Iraqis could secure and govern themselves. Lloyd would bring an important combination of strategic thinking, regional knowledge and proven judgment to one of the most critical posts in the department."
The Pentagon will rely on Austin's thinking far beyond Afghanistan as the military becomes increasingly entangled with local militaries and security forces across the Middle East and North Africa, chasing the spread of al Qaeda and other extremists groups.
Austin replaces Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis, who has been one of the most quiet and unseen 4-star commanders in the military. Mattis took the post following Gen. David Petraeus, who had turned the Central Command job into a virtual secretary of state for the Middle East, shuttling between capitals and employing the media to demonstrate that America's interest in the region would continue after the Iraq war. Mattis, in contrast, entered the war known for off-color quips and quickly went radio silent, making only rare public appearances.
Mattis, Panetta said, "will go down as one of the most celebrated battlefield leaders and strategic military thinkers of our time."