By Anne Flaherty and Anne Gearan
Friday, July 9, 2010; A12
Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis has been picked to take over U.S. Central Command, the Pentagon announced Thursday, replacing Gen. David H. Petraeus, who is now in Afghanistan as the top U.S. and NATO commander there.
The shake-up comes as the American public questions whether the fight in Afghanistan can be won and the Defense Department is reeling from losing its previous commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who was fired last month for speaking ill of his civilian bosses.
As head of Central Command, Mattis would oversee U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as across the Middle East, including Iraq and Iran.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters that he was impressed with the general's "strategic insight and independent thinking." Mattis is a seasoned war veteran best known for leading troops into the bloody battle of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004.
He is a bit of a surprising pick. Mattis has significant ground combat experience and is considered an intellectual who grasps the nuances of fighting a complicated counterinsurgency.
But he is also known to speak bluntly and off-the-cuff -- much like the departed McChrystal.
In 2005, Mattis was chastised by his superiors for saying in a public speech in San Diego that it was "fun to shoot some people." Mattis was a three-star general at the time, stationed in Quantico, Va., when he told an audience that some Afghans deserved to die.
His boss at the time, Gen. Mike Hagee, said that the comments reflected the "unfortunate and harsh realities of war" but that Mattis had been asked to watch his words in public.
Gates said Thursday that appropriate action was taken at the time. He also said he raised the issue with Mattis and was confident he would not make such statements again.
-- Associated Press