President Barack Obama bids farewell to Gen. Lloyd Austin III at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 31, 2012. (Pete Souza/THE WHITE HOUSE)

Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the last U.S. commander in Iraq, has been tapped to lead the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East and the Afghan war, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

“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,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a statement.

If confirmed, Austin, 59, who is now serving as the vice chief of staff of the Army, will oversee the drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan as the United States ends its combat mission there by the end of 2014.

Austin is known as a no-nonsense, hardworking commander. Unlike other four-star generals in top commands, he has kept a relatively low profile and his career has been scandal-free.

Austin would replace Marine Gen. James N. Mattis at the Tampa-based command. Centcom has made unwanted headlines in recent weeks because of the social ties maintained by top commanders there with Jill Kelley, a socialite who sparked an investigation that uncovered an extramarital affair by former CIA chief David H. Petraeus.

The probe ensnared a second former Centcom commander, Marine Gen. John R. Allen. The Defense Department inspector general is reviewing his voluminous e-mail exchanges with Kelley.

Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.