New top officers tapped for Afghanistan, SOCOM and NORTHCOM

June 24, 2014

Gen. John F. Campbell salutes the remains of Cpl. Justin R. Clouse, Spc. Justin R. Helton, and Pvt. Aaron S. Toppen as they are carried away during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on June 12. All three were reportedly killed in a reported “friendly fire” incident in Afghanistan. Campbell was nominated to serve as the next top commander in Afghanistan on Tuesday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday new positions for three of the military’s most powerful officers, including the next commanders for U.S. Special Operations Command and the International Security Assistance Force that oversees the war in Afghanistan.

Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel has been nominated by President Obama for promotion to four-star general and to take over SOCOM, the secretive organization that oversees special operations across the globe from its headquarters in Tampa. He would replace Adm. William McRaven, who has held the position since August 2011. Votel is currently the commander of Joint Special Operations Command, a component of SOCOM at Fort Bragg, N.C., that controls some of the military’s most elite units, including SEAL Team 6 and the Army’s Delta Force.

Army Gen. John Campbell, meanwhile, has been tapped to lead the closing salvos of the United States’ combat role in Afghanistan. Campbell, currently the Army’s vice chief of staff, would replace Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who has been nominated to become the next commandant of the Marine Corps.

Obama also has nominated Adm. Bill Gortney to become the next commander of U.S. Northern Command, Hagel said Tuesday. Gortney has served as the chief of the Navy’s U.S. Fleet Forces Command since September 2012. NORTHCOM oversees U.S. military operations in North America, while Fleet Forces Command oversees the organization, training and equipping of naval forces all over the world. Gortney would replace Army Gen. Charles Jacoby as the head of NORTHCOM. He has held the position since August 2011.

All three moves must be confirmed by the Senate.

The moves raise questions about what McRaven and Jacoby will do in the future. McRaven, one of the nation’s most well-known and powerful officers, is credited with organizing Operation Neptune Spear, the Navy SEAL raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. Both senior officers could retire.

If Campbell is confirmed, the Army also must find a new officer to replace him as the service’s No. 2 in command. He has served as vice chief of staff for the Army since March 2013.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.
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