Defense shuffle: U.S. set to name new Afghanistan commanders
Petraeus, who stepped into the post last summer after President Barack Obama fired Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal for comments his aides made to Rolling Stone magazine, is likely to be succeeded by Deputy CENTCOM commander, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen, defense sources told The Envoy.
(Veteran defense correspondent Tom Ricks, now with the Center for New American Security think tank, previously reported that Allen is likely to be tapped to succeed Petraeus.)
Meantime, the deputy U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez was nominated this week for a fourth star and to take charge of Army Force Command, moving to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. He is likely to be succeeded in Afghanistan by Lt. Gen. Curtis "Mike" Scaparrotti, currently commander of the I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Washington State, defense sources said.
Both Scaparrotti--a former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division who is planning to bring several three-star advisors with him to Afghanistan--and Allen are extremely respected figures in Washington and in the field.
John Allen is "a rock star, one of the brightest lights in the U.S. military," one Defense official told The Envoy on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters. As deputy commanding general for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Allen has been the point man for all things Iran. In Iraq, Allen was one of the authors of the "Anbar Awakening"--the largely successful Sunni reconciliation and reintegration effort, for the Marine Corps from late 2006 to 2007.
Few people in the military "understand the on-the-ground, inherently political nature of irregular war" and counterinsurgency strategy as well as Allen, the official said, adding that the Marine Corps three-star also understands Washington and the inter-agency.
Where will Petraeus go? Military officers who have worked with the commander say he has long been interested in commanding U.S. forces in Europe--the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, SACEUR--a post currently held by Adm. John Stavridis. Some twenty-five years ago, Petraeus served as a speechwriter to then-SACEUR Gen. John Galvin, a defense analyst said, and Petraeus has been intrigued by the job since.
Another military analyst who has recently interacted with Petraeus in Afghanistan said Petraeus is worn out, and still recovering from prostate cancer.
"Petraeus is tired, really exhausted," the defense analyst said on condition of anonymity. "He stepped into the breach, and I think the plan was for him to come in and serve out the remainder of McChrystal’s time. But McChrystal was well rested when he took the job. Petraeus is still recovering from cancer. He went from one extremely high-stress position to another."
Petraeus’ departure from Afghanistan--likely in the summer--"has been in the works," the analyst said.
Although some national security hands have heard a rumor that Petraeus might be tapped for CIA director if--as many expect--CIA Director Leon Panetta is nominated to succeed Defense Secretary Robert Gates, defense analysts close to the commander say they have a hard time imagining it.
Petraeus has spent his whole career "caring about the military as an institution," American Enterprise Institute military analyst Tom Donnelly said this week. He doesn’t have that relationship with the civilian intelligence agency.
Then again, the admittedly bizarre rumor persists. "Gen. Petraeus has a good relationship with Panetta, and he may be intrigued by the possibility" of the intelligence post, the military analyst who observed the general’s fatigue in Afghanistan allowed.
One thing is clear, the defense analysts said: the White House is unlikely to be comfortable elevating Petraeus to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he would be a major power center with potential at least perceived political-rival implications.
A spokesman for Petraeus did not respond to queries on the general’s plans.
Meantime, SACEUR Adm. Stavridis is said to be a contender, along with the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, to succeed Adm. Mike Mullen as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Mullen retires at the end of the year. Cartwright--who represents the uniformed military at the all-important White House deputies committee meetings â€” is said to be an Obama favorite. He was recently exonerated from allegations of an improper relationship with a female aide. Stavridis, currently commanding NATO operations in Libya, is also very highly regarded as a rising star and terrific manager.
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