Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was nominated to be NATO's supreme allied commander and head of U.S. European Command, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Oct. 6. (The Associated Press)
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Gen. Joseph Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, is expected to take over Gen. John Allen's current position as commander of ISAF forces in Afghanistan. Allen was nominated to be NATO's supreme allied commander and head of EUCOM. (Marine Corps)
President Obama on Wednesday nominated Marine Gen. John Allen, as the next supreme allied commander Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, where he will succeed Navy Adm. Jim Stavridis. Allen now serves as commander of U.S. Forces and NATO International Security Assistances Forces in Afghanistan.
As expected, the president also nominated Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford to succeed Allen in Afghanistan.
Both nominations must be confirmed by the Senate to take effect.
"For more than a year, General Allen has served with distinction … seeing us through a critical period in our military efforts and in Afghanistan's transition," the president said in a statement. "I have personally relied on his counsel and am grateful for his devotion to our national security and to the safety of the men and women with whom he serves.
"Under General Allen's command, we have made important progress towards our core goal of defeating al Qaida and ensuring they can never return to a sovereign Afghanistan. Working with our Afghan partners and international civilians, the forces under General Allen's command have moved forward with a transition to Afghan Security Forces, who will take the lead for security across the country next year."
Obama said "very difficult work remains ahead in Afghanistan," and that he has full confidence in Dunford's "extensive experience, strategic leadership and vision."
"If confirmed by the Senate, he will lead our forces through key milestones in our effort that will allow us to bring the war to a close responsibly as Afghanistan takes full responsibility for its security."
At a conference of NATO defense ministers in Brussels earlier on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made official his long-rumored endorsement of Dunford to command coalition forces in Afghanistan, calling him "an exceptionally gifted strategic leader."
"He is combat-tested. He believes in ISAF, and if confirmed, will be an extraordinary leader of it," Panetta said.
If confirmed, Dunford would become the fifth ISAF commander in four years. He would be responsible for maintaining current operations through the complete transition to Afghan forces and overseeing the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces by 2014.
Dunford, a career infantry officer, is known as "Fighting Joe" for leading Regimental Combat Team 5 during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. He became the Corps' second highest ranking officer in 2010. He previously served a dual tour leading I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Marine Corps Forces Central Command in Tampa, Fla.
When asked about the possible nomination in August, Commandant Gen. Jim Amos described Dunford as "one of the finest officers who [has] ever worn this cloth."
Although Dunford has not served a combat tour in Afghanistan, he tracked combat operations while commanding MARCENT and is described by colleagues as intelligent, decisive and someone who can get the job done.
According to Foreign Policy blog, sources have named Lt. Gen. George Flynn, director of plans for the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Lt. Gen. John Paxton, commander of U.S. Marine Forces Command; and Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, deputy commandant for aviation as possible contenders to replace Dunford.
Panetta also spoke about Allen's nomination, which NATO approved Wednesday morning.
"General Allen is well-known to all of you, and if confirmed, his experience as [ISAF commander] will be instrumental in his broader role and in leading NATO's oversight of the mission in Afghanistan," Panetta said.
Panetta stressed the importance of continuing to build relationships with Afghan forces, and urged NATO allies to help eliminate the shortfall of security assistance teams and to assist in training the Afghans.
"The U.S. has filled a disproportionate number of these teams in recent years, and I ask for your help to fill the gap," Panetta said. The addition of 58 teams would bring the total number of security assistance teams up to 465.
"We can only deny the enemy its objective by countering these attacks with all of our strength, and fortifying our resolve with the signs of our progress," Panetta said.
email@example.com?subject=Question from AirForceTimes.com reader">Gidget Fuentes contributed to this report.