Pentagon officially names Austin as new CENTCOM chief

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta forwarded Austin's name for the command post to the White House on Friday. Austin assumed his post as the Army's No. 2 officer last January after overseeing the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. 


President Obama initially pegged Austin to be the new Central Command chief last December. 

Austin's official assignment to CENTCOM comes amid controversy regarding the White House's tenuous relationship between Mattis and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. 

Disagreements between Donilon and Mattis over the direction of U.S. strategy regarding Iran ultimately led to the four-star general's ouster from Central Command, according to details of Mattis' departure first reported by Foreign Policy. 

Known as the "Warrior Monk" for his no-nonsense leadership style, Mattis played a vital role in leading the Marine Corps's campaign in the al-Anbar province of Iraq, which was part of the infamous Sunni Triangle, during the most violent days of the Iraq war. 

As commander of the 1st Marine Division in Iraq in 2004, then-Maj. Gen. Mattis was instrumental in leading combat operations during both major U.S. offensives in Fallujah, dubbed Operation Vigilant Resolve and Operation Phantom Fury. 

But Mattis' hard-nosed attitude that was so beneficial on the battlefield ended up playing against him during the inside-the-beltway, bureaucratic battles between the Pentagon and the Obama administration over Iran. 

The CENTCOM commander's insistence on pressing the White House, specifically Donilon, on the potentially devastating ramifications of military action against Iran's nuclear enrichment program sealed the general's fate, according to recent reports. 

Based on his experiences in Iraq, Mattis was reportedly concerned about whether U.S. forces could keep the country from imploding into violence after any potential U.S. action against Iran. 

He also raised the issue of what kind of threat Iran could still pose to American national security interests in the region, even without the threat of a nuclear capability. 

While the White House and Pentagon have stated repeatedly they are seeking a political solution to the issue of Iran, they have been just as vocal about retaining all options -- including those involving military action -- to deter Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. 

Mattis' unrelenting questioning of those military options was viewed by the administration as undercutting President Obama's slate of options in dealing with Tehran and its nuclear ambitions, which led to Mattis' early ouster as CENTCOM chief. 

While it remains to be seen whether Austin's tenure at Central Command will adhere more closely to the administration's stance on Iran and other hot spots in the Mideast, Panetta had nothing but praise for the new commander. 

"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," Panetta said last December. 

That level of leadership and his experience gained in Iraq and throughout his career will pay dividends for American forces in "one of the most critical posts in the department," Panetta said at the time.