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Panetta taps Austin to be new CENTCOM chief

Dec. 6, 2012 - 03:24PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 6, 2012 - 03:24PM  |  
Army Gen. Lloyd Austin's nomination to succeed Marine Gen. James Mattis was announced Thursday by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Army Gen. Lloyd Austin's nomination to succeed Marine Gen. James Mattis was announced Thursday by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. (U.S. Air Force)
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Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd Austin will be nominated to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command, the Defense Department announced Thursday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Austin, who became the vice chief in February, would succeed Marine Gen. James Mattis.

Mattis took command of CENTCOM, based at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., in August 2010. He has not publicly indicated his post-CENTCOM plans, officials said.

"Lloyd Austin … is one of the military's most seasoned combat leaders, with extensive experience in the CENTCOM area of responsibility," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement.

Austin, a 1975 West Point graduate, led the 3rd Infantry Division "from the front in the opening months of the Iraq war,">earning a Silver Star for valor," Panetta's statement said.

He later commanded the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan, led Multi-National Corps-Iraq from February 2008 until April 2009, and then commanded U.S. Forces-Iraq from September 2010 through the completion of the mission in December 2011.

"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," Panetta said in his statement. "Lloyd would bring an important combination of strategic thinking, regional knowledge and proven judgment to one of the most critical posts in the department."

There is no word yet on who might succeed Austin as the Army's second-most senior officer, officials said.

If Austin's nomination to CENTCOM is confirmed, he likely will transition to the new position in the February to March timeframe, Army officials said.

Austin has served at CENTCOM before, as its chief of staff from September 2005 until November 2006. He also served as commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C.

CENTCOM is one of DoD's six geographic combatant commands, and its area of responsibility spans 20 countries, including Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan and Syria.

While Mattis' plans aren't publicly known, Panetta praised him as an "extraordinary" commander.

"Jim has a distinguished record as a combatant commander, having also led the former Joint Forces Command from 2007-2010," Panetta said in his statement. "I will have much more to say about Jim Mattis, who I believe will go down as one of the most celebrated battlefield leaders and strategic military thinkers of our time."

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