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Campbell tapped to be next Afghanistan commander

Jun. 24, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell has been nominated to become head of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell has been nominated to become head of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade / Army)
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Adm. Bill Gortney, head of US Fleet Forces Command, has been nominated to take over US Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command. (US Navy)
Nominees: Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel, left, for head of US Special Operations Command; Adm. Bill Gortney, center, for head of US Northern Command; and Gen. John Campbell, right, to lead NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. (Wikipedia/US Navy/US Army)

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday announced nominations for three senior officers for top jobs.

■ Army Gen. John Campbell, vice chief of staff of the Army, has been nominated to lead the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

■ Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel has been nominated to receive a fourth star and to take over U.S. Special Operations Command. He is the head of Joint Special Operations Command.

■ Navy Adm. Bill Gortney, head of Fleet Forces Command, has been nominated to lead U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The Campbell nomination had been rumored for the past several weeks, and his name was sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 17 in a move that put to rest an unfolding debate as to who should replace Dunford once he leaves for the Marine Corps post.

Campbell already has operational experience in Afghanistan, having commanded the 101st Airborne Division in eastern Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. In a 2012 interview in his Pentagon office, he showed reporters a backpack he keeps at his desk filled with notecards containing the names, ages, and home towns of the soldiers who died under his command there to remind him of his responsibilities as a leader.

In that interview, conducted while he served as the Army’s G-3/5/7, Campbell said the withdrawal from Afghanistan is “going to be very tough — very different from Iraq. The level of violence isn’t the same drawing out of Afghanistan as it was in Iraq.”

While commander in Afghanistan, Campbell launched a drive to transition out of three combat outposts simultaneously in the Pech valley in eastern Afghanistan. “I was trying to close one, transition one to the Afghan forces and downsize one,” he said. “That was a brigade-level operation that consumed that brigade for about three weeks. It was a combat operation” where his troops had to pack up gear while continuing to patrol and engage the enemy regularly.

“As they downsize in Afghanistan, they’ll have to continue to fight,” he warned, “they’ll have to continue to train the Afghans. They have a very good plan, but it’s going to be very hard; I don’t think we should kid ourselves.”

Campbell would lead about 9,800 US and as many as 4,000 NATO forces as they continue to train and advise Afghan forces while also conducting targeted counterterrorism missions against Haqqani, al-Qaida, and Taliban targets.

As such, he would work closely with troops provided by Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel — current JSOC commander and nominated for McRaven’s job at SOCOM. Before taking over at JSOC, Votel served as SOCOM’s chief of staff. Votel also commanded the 75th Ranger Regiment and was the deputy director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.

If confirmed, Votel will be the second JSOC chief in a row to move on to command SOCOM. McRaven helmed JSOC from June 2008 to June 2011.

The SOCOM job would be quite different from JSOC, as SOCOM is focused on training and equipping special operations forces, as opposed to directing their operations in the field.

JSOC directs the Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, as well as the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron. Elements of the 16oth Special Operations Aviation Regiment and the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment can also fall under JSOC when deployed.

Speaking at a special operations conference in Tampa, Florida, in May, Votel said that one of the biggest things he’s looking for from the defense industry are “research and development into areas that will help us with detection and neutralization” of chemical and biological weapons.

His concerns stems from “violent extremists organizations and others [who] continue to exert a desire to acquire these types of weapons. So our ability to detect and neutralize them effectively will be a key piece for our country.”

Asking industry for technology that will allow stand-off detection and neutralization of those weapons is vital, Votel said, because “we will only have very limited opportunity to get that one right when the situation is presented to us. So we will need to pay some attention to that.”

A Gortney move to NORTHCOM also has been rumored for months. Once widely viewed as a potential candidate to become chief of naval operations (CNO), it is not clear how the move from Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., to NORTHCOM’s headquarters in Colorado might affect his chances.

A naval aviator and combat veteran, Gortney has extensive experience in the Persian Gulf region, including command of a carrier strike group, US Fifth Fleet, and US Central Command. At Fleet Forces Command, where he oversees training and readiness for the Navy’s Atlantic forces, he crafted the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, an attempt to improve the fleet’s operational readiness plans.

A goal of the revised plan, announced in January, is to keep ships home about 68 percent of the time, with an eight-month deployment during a three-year period. New deployment schedules have yet to be implemented fleet-wide.

In an April interview with Defense News, Gortney laid out the challenges for maintaining readiness in an era of budget cuts.

“We can’t continue with our current readiness generation model, which we call the Fleet Response Plan,” he said. “The reason what we’ve done in the last seven years of very high-tempo ops is we’ve gotten away from some of our roots and we’ve lost predictability for our sailors, for our sailors’ families, for our consumers of readiness, the [combatant commanders] and for our industrial base. We need to put predictability and adaptability back into our force-generation model.”

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