USA — Gates: Mattis Brings Experience, Continuity to Centcom

TAMPA, Fla., Aug. 11, 2010 — Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis brings a wealth of expe­ri­ence in the Mid­dle East to his new assign­ment as the com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand here, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Gates presided at Mat­tis’ assump­tion of com­mand in front of mil­i­tary and diplo­mat­ic offi­cials from many of the coun­ties in the Mid­dle East and Cen­tral Asia. Mat­tis assumed com­mand from Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen, who has been act­ing com­man­der since Army Gen. David H. Petraeus left the com­mand to lead NATO oper­a­tions in Afghanistan.

Gates called Mat­tis one of America’s fore­most strate­gic thinkers and com­bat lead­ers and not­ed that he worked with Petraeus in devel­op­ing the coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy. “His insights into the nature of war­fare in the 21st cen­tu­ry sig­nif­i­cant­ly influ­enced my views about the shape and pos­ture of our armed forces for a com­plex and unpre­dictable future,” Gates said.

Mat­tis said his appoint­ment sig­ni­fies con­ti­nu­ity to the nations of the Cen­tral Com­mand region. “We are stand­ing beside you, and we will work with you to pro­mote secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty,” he said. “I am eager to hear how we can best work togeth­er to pro­tect the inno­cent while enhanc­ing the deep bonds of mutu­al respect – bonds that have stood strong between us for many decades.”

Gates also used the cer­e­mo­ny to thank Petraeus for his ser­vice at Cent­com and talked about the general’s lega­cy.

“We have seen dra­mat­ic improve­ments in the U.S. mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship with Pak­istan, over­com­ing more than a decade of dis­trust and estrange­ment,” Gates said. Pak­istan has tak­en on the Tal­iban prob­lem in its fed­er­al­ly admin­is­tered trib­al areas, and Gates praised the Pak­ista­nis for dri­ving insur­gents from their safe havens and killing or arrest­ing many insur­gent lead­ers.

In Iraq, Gates praised Petraeus – along with Army Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no – for man­ag­ing the U.S. draw­down and con­tin­ued train­ing of the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces.

The sec­re­tary added that Cent­com had made progress in work­ing with the Yemeni gov­ern­ment to strength­en that strate­gic country’s secu­ri­ty in face of infil­tra­tion by al-Qai­da on the Ara­bi­an penin­su­la.

“Gen­er­al Petraeus has also deep­ened our joint efforts with part­ners in the Gulf in the areas of mis­sile defense, infra­struc­ture pro­tec­tion and counter-pira­cy,” Gates said.

More than 200,000 Amer­i­can ser­vice­mem­bers are in Centcom’s area of oper­a­tions. About 170,000 are in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mat­tis addressed those troops direct­ly.

“I’m in awe of your for­ti­tude,” the gen­er­al said. “As you know so well, much is rid­ing on your young shoul­ders. I will hold you in my thoughts and prayers as we team togeth­er – co-equals in our com­mit­ment to pro­tect­ing our exper­i­ment we call Amer­i­ca and to sup­port­ing sta­bil­i­ty in the region we’re assigned.”

Gates also spoke of the ser­vice and sac­ri­fices of ser­vice­mem­bers after almost nine years of war.

“More than 5,500 [ser­vice­mem­bers] have made the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice, with tens of thou­sands more wound­ed in ways both seen and unseen,” the sec­re­tary said. “To all the young men and women in uni­form giv­ing every­thing of them­selves in this fight, and to our adver­saries look­ing for weak­ness in our resolve: The Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to stand by our allies, defend our vital nation­al inter­ests, and hon­or the sac­ri­fices of so many who have fought and fall­en wear­ing our nation’s uni­form.”

Mat­tis takes over a com­mand fight­ing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly fig­ur­ing out how to respond to Iran’s nuclear ambi­tions and track record of mis­sile pro­lif­er­a­tion. Cen­tral Com­mand also is coor­di­nat­ing aid to Pak­istan, and work­ing with Cen­tral Asian coun­tries to strength­en their mil­i­taries under civil­ian con­trol.

Twen­ty years ago, Mat­tis com­mand­ed a bat­tal­ion that par­tic­i­pat­ed in the lib­er­a­tion of Kuwait. He com­mand­ed the first con­ven­tion­al troops to enter Afghanistan in Novem­ber 2001, and com­mand­ed the 1st Marine Divi­sion at the begin­ning of Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom. He lat­er com­mand­ed the 1st Marine Expe­di­tionary Force and con­cur­rent­ly served as the chief of the chief of the Marine com­po­nent to Cen­tral Com­mand. His most recent job was as com­man­der of U.S. Joint Forces Com­mand in Nor­folk, Va.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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