Could another Marine soon be leading the war in Afghanistan?
A report in The Wall Street Journal this morning suggests that the frontrunner to replace Gen. John Allen as the next head of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is none other than Gen. Joseph Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly recommended him to the White House for the job.
From the story:
Defense officials said Gen. Dunford is a firm supporter of the Afghan war strategy of Mr. Obama, who has called for continued drawdowns of U.S. forces through the end of 2014.
Gen. Dunford’s backers say he could be an effective communicator with the public, forcefully articulating the military’s mission in Afghanistan as it withdraws. Officials said Gen. Dunford would focus on training the Afghan security forces and preparing them to secure the country, jettisoning larger ambitions of improving the Afghan central government.
Dunford is widely considered one of the brightest leaders in the Corps, but has never served in Afghanistan. He picked up the nickname “Fighting Joe” while leading Regimental Combat Team 5 during the initial invasion of Iraq and serving under then Maj. Gen. James Mattis, who is now the four-star head of U.S. Central Command.
It’s well known that Allen will likely move on to become the next head of U.S. European Command early next year, before the next fighting season in Afghanistan begins. The Wall Street Journal report raises as many questions as it answers, though.
First, if Dunford is heading to Kabul, who would become the next ACMC? There’s only a handful of general officers who’d seemingly have the pedigree. Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of I Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Forces Central Command, is one. Lt. Gen. Richard Tryon, deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations, is another. Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, deputy commandant for combat development and integration is a third.
The move also would raise questions about where else musical chairs may occur. Does Mattis, the longest serving Marine general, retire? Does Gen. John Kelly, recently named the head of U.S. Southern Command, fit better somewhere else?
Currently, there are five Marine four-star officers: Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, Dunford, Kelly, Mattis and Allen. If a three-star general is promoted to replace Dunford as ACMC, that could make six unless someone retires.
Under U.S. law, only two four-star Marine officers — the commandant and ACMC — can serve in the Corps at any one time. However, other four-star Marines can lead joint commands, or serve as JCS chairman or vice chairman. The president also can increase the number of three- or four-star generals in one service as long as there is a corresponding decrease in another service.