Marine Gen. James Mattis, currently commander of Joint Forces Command, will replace Gen. David Petraeus as the next commander of Central Command. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the announcement at an afternoon Pentagon press conference. the move suyprised some observers, who believed Mattis had shown himself to be too outspoken as JFCom leader.
If confirmed by the Senate, the blunt-speaking Mattis will bring considerable regional experience to his new post. He served as a battalion commander during 1991’s Desert Storm, commanded Marine forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and commanded the Marines in Iraq during the invasion in 2003 and during the bloody fight for Fallujah during 2004.
Mattis' intellect and knowledge are truly impressive, something Gates acknowledged in his announcement today when he said he had selected Mattis to lead the "red team" that war gamed scenarios that informed the recent QDR. He called Mattis one of the military's most "innovative and iconoclastic thinkers." He is also known as a military leader who speaks his mind with great vigor and directness. That was thought, in part, to be why he was not picked as the next Marine Commandant even though he was known to be one of Gates' favorite generals.
"The post General Mattis is taking is a critical one at a critical time. The United States has vital, long-standing interests and commitments in Central Asia and the gulf region going back decades, interests and commitments that transcend multiple presidencies of both political parties," Gates said. With the turbulent state of affairs in the region, from Iran and Iraq, Turkey to Afghanistan, senior military officials had worried at the prospect of the nation's hottest combatant command going without a Senate-confirmed leader for any length of time. Gates, gave voice to those sentiments, telling reporters: “I consider it essential to have a confirmed full time commander in CentCom as quickly as possible.”