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Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford, to lead Marine Corps

President Obama gets a briefing by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, on May 25 at Bagram Air Field. The Pentagon announced Thursday that Dunford will become the next commandant of the Marine Corps, the top officer in the service. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford will become the Marine Corps’ next top officer, taking over the sea service after leading coalition operations in Afghanistan for more than two years, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

Dunford was widely seen as a top choice for the position, and will replace Gen. James F. Amos, who has led the Marine Corps since October 2010. Dunford previously served as the Corps’ No. 2 officer as assistant commandant, from October 2010 until December 2012, when he stepped down ahead of becoming the top U.S. general in Afghanistan in February 2013.

“Joe is one of the most knowledgeable and talented leaders and thinkers in the military today. He has commanded and excelled at every level,” Amos said in a statement. “Our country and our Marine Corps will benefit greatly from his continued service.”

The Pentagon announcement did not indicate who would serve as the Marine Corps’ next assistant commandant. Gen. John Paxton has served in that position since December 2012, when he took over for Dunford as he prepared for his new position in Afghanistan. The Marine Corps’ top two positions sometimes change around the same time, although that is not required.

Dunford is seen as one of the Marine Corps’ brightest minds. He already is seen as a front-runner to replace Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dempsey has served as the Pentagon’s top uniformed officer since September 2011, and is expected to retire sometime in 2015.

If that occurs, Dunford would likely serve as Marine Corps commandant for little more than a year. He is expected to replace Amos sometime this fall, with Amos retiring.

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

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