The nomination of Marine Gen. James Mattis' successor as head of U.S. Central Command was announced Thursday, raising questions about the general's next role. (Staff)
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Gen. James Mattis said Thursday he'll continue to concentrate on his work as the head of U.S. Central Command and "figure out the rest later," following an announcement that his replacement has been selected.
Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the vice chief of staff for the Army, has been chosen to replace the influential four-star Marine, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced. Lloyd's nomination is still subject to Senate confirmation. If approved, he'll replace Mattis overseeing all military operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
The announcement raises questions about Mattis' future. The general, 62, is widely revered by rank-and-file Marines for his blunt talk and leadership, and has served in the U.S. military for 40 years. Asked by email what he thought his future holds, he did not say whether he planned to retire.
"I'll remain focused on my job at CENTCOM for now and figure out the rest later," Mattis said.
U.S. military officials have speculated for months that Mattis could leave his CENTCOM post by this summer and join civilian life, but a recent scandal involving other top U.S. officers raises questions whether he could be asked to fill one of their roles.
In particular, it's uncertain who will serve as the next supreme allied commander of NATO and head of U.S. European Command. Marine Gen. John Allen, the outgoing commander of the war in Afghanistan, had been tapped for the position, but his nomination was put on hold last month after he was ensnared in a scandal that also led to retired Army Gen. David Petraeus stepping down as head of the CIA after admitting an extramarital affair.
Pentagon officials are investigating emails deemed inappropriate and flirtatious between Allen, who is married, and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, whose complaints to an FBI agent about anonymous harassing email led to the revelation that Petraeus had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
Panetta did not comment on Mattis' future in his announcement, but praised the general as "one of the most celebrated battlefield leaders and strategic military thinkers of our time."
"He has been an exemplary leader of U.S. Central Command at a critical time for America's vital interests in the Middle East and South Asia," Panetta said. "He has helped build regional security cooperation, advanced the cause of security and stability, and ensured that our forces are postured and prepared for any contingency in the region."