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The Fayetteville Observer December 07, 2012

Gen. Austin, former Fort Bragg commander, selected to lead ongoing Afghan war effort

By John Ramsey

Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, a former Fort Bragg commander and the Army's vice chief of staff, has been selected to lead U.S. Army Central Command, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

Austin, who was in charge of getting U.S. troops and equipment out of Iraq last year, would play a role in wrapping up the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 if the Senate confirms his nomination.

Central Command, or Centcom, oversees U.S. operations in the Middle East and the war in Afghanistan.

Austin was commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps from December 2006 to April 2009. For the last year of that time, he was in charge of day-to-day operations in Iraq.

He then commanded U.S. Forces-Iraq from September 2010 through the completion of the mission in December 2011.

In Iraq, much of his staff was made up of soldiers from the 18th Airborne Corps.

Retired Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, a former corps commander who served as Austin's deputy in Iraq, said the president could not have selected a better general.

"It's a tribute to him and a vote of confidence in our Army to put him in that position," Helmick said.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta also commented on the selection.

"During his final deployment to Iraq, Gen. Austin led our military efforts at a particularly important time, overseeing the drawdown of U.S. forces and equipment while simultaneously helping to ensure that hard-fought security gains were preserved and that Iraqis could secure and govern themselves," Panetta said in a written statement.

The Afghanistan drawdown won't be easy, military analyst John Pike said.

"I think the challenge that he's going to face is that on the one hand, there's going to be a lot of political pressure for accelerating the drawdown and very little support for keeping it at a slower pace," said Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense think tank. "I think that there was a greater sense that you had something somewhat stable to leave behind in Iraq, whereas my gut is telling me that Afghanistan is going to implode."

Helmick said that Austin alone would not be in charge of the drawdown in Afghanistan, as Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford is the U.S. and NATO commander for troops in that country, but said Austin would share that load and use his experiences in Iraq.

Panetta described Austin as one of the nation's most seasoned military leaders.

Austin led the 3rd Infantry Division in the opening months of the Iraq war, where as a one-star general he earned a Silver Star for valor. He has commanded the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan.

Austin's rise through the ranks included several leadership positions in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. He has been the operations officer for the division, as well as commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 3rd Brigade.

"We here at Fort Bragg congratulate Gen. Austin on the president's intended nomination of him to lead U.S. Central Command," said Lt. Gen. Dan Allyn, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg. "We know his leadership will inspire Centcom's future mission success, as he inspired our success at Fort Bragg, 18th Airborne Corps and Multi-National Corps/U.S. Forces-Iraq."

Staff writer Drew Brooks contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012, The Fayetteville Observer