Defense

McKenzie retires, hands over command of Centcom

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The top general in charge of U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia on Friday relinquished his command in a ceremony in Florida.  

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, who had led U.S. Central Command (Centcom) since March 2019, handed over his position to Army Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla during a change of command ceremony in Tampa, Fla.  

“Commanding CENTCOM has been, without a doubt, the single greatest honor of my 42-year career,” McKenzie, who retires after 42 years in the military, said in a statement. “For the past 21 years, CENTCOM has been the only combatant command in close and enduring contact with America’s enemies. It’s where every combat arms commander wants to be.” 

While head of Centcom, McKenzie oversaw major U.S. military moments including the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan — a move he and other defense leaders recommended against — as well as aggression from Iran, the transition of coalition forces in Iraq to an advisory role and the multi-nation battle against ISIS.  

He also carried out then-President Trump’s order to kill the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, in January 2020, a move that drew a missile attack on Iraq’s al-Asad air base that housed U.S. troops.  

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, who attended the ceremony, said McKenzie’s tenure “deepened security in the region and at home for years to come.” 

Kurilla will now take control of a command comprised of more than 44,000 service and family members overseas in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and nearly 5,000 personnel assigned and attached to the headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. 

The commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C., since October 2019, Kurilla comes to Centcom at a time of tenuous security conditions around the globe, including Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and bid to recruit fighters in Syria and elsewhere in the region. 

He also takes command as the U.S. government is struggling with a reduced presence in the Middle East following its withdrawal from Afghanistan, a situation that could lead to the quick reconstitution of al Qaeda and ISIS-K in the country, he warned during his confirmation hearing in February.  

Tags CentCom Frank McKenzie Mark Milley

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