President Barack Obama has nominated Marine Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser for promotion to four-star rank to replace retiring Army Gen. David Rodriguez as head of U.S. Africa Command in the ongoing effort to halt the spread of ISIS on the continent, the Pentagon said Thursday.
If confirmed by the Senate to lead the command, Waldhauser would become the only Marine to head one of the combatant commands. In a statement, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called Waldhauser, 62, of St. Paul, Minnesota, the "perfect pick for this dynamic command."
Waldhauser, currently the director for Joint Force Development on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, was commissioned in 1976. He served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991 and, as commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, led Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a Major General, Waldhauser was commander the 1st Marine division.
Waldhauser would replace the highly-regarded Rodriguez, 61, who also was commissioned in 1976 and has spent more time in combat zones from Panama and Desert Storm through Iraq and Afghanistan than almost any other officer on active duty.
In his career, Rodriguez has commanded the International Security Assistance Force -- Joint Command in Afghanistan; the 82nd Airborne Division; the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division; and the 101st airborne division. He also has commanded companies of the 75th Ranger Regiment, and 1st Armored Division.
In his statement, Carter said that Waldhauser led "some of our first troops into Afghanistan after Sept. 11, and in his most recent service in the Pentagon as director for Joint Force Development, Lt. Gen. Waldhauser has demonstrated strong military leadership, excellent political-military experience, and superb management skills."
As head of Africa Command, Waldhauser will be challenged in "building partner capacity, enabling regional forces and combating the metastasis of ISIL and other violent extremists," Carter said. "I am confident that Lt. Gen. Waldhauser will bring the same caliber of strong and steady leadership to AFRICOM that Gen. David Rodriguez has brought to the command for the past three years."
In a Pentagon briefing earlier this month, Rodriguez estimated the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, now has 4,000 to 6,000 fighters in Libya. "Over in East Africa, of course, the big threat is Al-Shabab inside Somalia. We work with five of the troop contributing countries as well as the Somalis -- developing the Somali national army to continue to support the Somali government in helping provide stability in that region," he said.
Waldhauser gained unwanted attention in a dispute with then-Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos over potential undue command influence in the 2011 case of five Marines videotaped urinating on Taliban corpses in Afghanistan.
Waldhauser had original oversight over the investigation of the incident but was removed after a controversial meeting with Amos. At the meeting, Waldhauser later testified, "The Commandant leaned back on his chair, looked at me right in the eye very close and said, 'those guys need to be crushed.'" Amos later said he did not recall saying anything about Marines being crushed.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.