WASHINGTON -- Gen. Lloyd Austin, who took command of U.S. Central Command in a ceremony Friday at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, said the United States must remain engaged in the Middle East even as the U.S. combat operations there wind down.
As CENTCOM commander, Austin will oversee the drawdown of troops and withdrawal of mountains of equipment from Afghanistan when the NATO combat mission there ends in December 2014. He also was the commanding general in Iraq when the U.S. withdrew from that country in late 2011.
"While we mean to transition full responsibility for the security of the country to the Afghans, this is not meant to signal an end to our presence or our involvement in the region," Austin told a gathering that included Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey. "If we want to have an effective and lasting impact in that part of the world, we must remain engaged."
As he headed into retirement, outgoing CENTCOM commander Gen. James Mattis, who commanded a Marine division in the 2003 Iraq invasion while Austin was an Army assistant division commander, praised his wartime comrade and the troops he now commands.
"Lloyd, we've served side by side repeatedly," he said. "I can think of no one better prepared to command CENTCOM, and I pass to you the finest war fighting team on the Earth."