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Mattis Named To Command U.S. Forces In Iraq, Afghan Wars

General James Mattis in an undated U.S. Marine Corps handout photo

General James Mattis in an undated U.S. Marine Corps handout photo

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has nominated four-star Marine General James Mattis to be the new head of U.S. Central Command.

U.S. Central Command, also know by its acronym CENTCOM, oversees war plans and operations for U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia. This includes operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama must formalize the nomination, which then goes to Congress for approval.

If confirmed, Mattis will replace General David Petraeus, who took over direct command of the Afghan war effort after General Stanley McChrystal was fired by Obama for a damaging magazine interview.

Gates, who announced the nomination late on July 8 in Washington, said Mattis was an "outstanding combat leader" and the right man for the job.

"General Mattis has proven to be one of the military's most innovative and iconoclastic thinkers," Gates added. "His insights into the nature of warfare in the 21st century have influenced my own views about how the armed forces must be shaped and postured for the future."

Diplomatic Skills

Mattis now heads the U.S. Joint Forces Command, whose task is to design blueprints for future military operations and recommend better ways to integrate the war-fighting capabilities of the different branches of the U.S. military.

Previously, he commanded Marine forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the theaters of war that he has been named to oversee.

As a brigadier general, Mattis led forces in southern Afghanistan in the early stages of the conflict.

In 2004, Mattis's Marine division carried out the assault on the city of Fallujah and he played a key role in helping Iraqi security forces negotiate with insurgents inside the city.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he had been equally impressed by the general's diplomatic skills off the combat field as he watched Mattis interact with other NATO allies.

That doesn't mean Mattis is soft-spoken. Quite the opposite, in fact.

In 2005, Mattis was reprimanded by the Marine Corps for telling a conference in San Diego, California: "It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you, I like brawling."

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said during a panel discussion. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
Gates said on July 8 that appropriate action had been taken at the time. He added that "the subsequent five years have demonstrated that the lesson was learned."

compiled from agency reports