WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta nominated on Oct. 18 a former senior commander in Afghanistan as the new head of the military’s Africa Command, which oversees U.S. security efforts on the continent.
The change in leadership comes amid growing concerns over al-Qaida’s affiliates in the region, particularly in Mali, and a deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya linked to Islamist extremists.
Panetta said Gen. David Rodriguez, who served as the deputy American commander in Afghanistan and helped plan the “surge” of additional troops in the war, was well-suited to the post.
As chief of the NATO-led force’s joint command, Rodriguez “oversaw the coalition and Afghan forces during the surge, and was a key architect of the successful campaign plan that we are now implementing,” Panetta told a news conference.
Rodriguez, known by troops as “General Rod” and who currently serves as head of U.S. Army Forces command, was touted as a possible chief commander for Afghanistan last year. The job however went to a Marine, Gen. John Allen, who after a year in Kabul is due to hand over soon to another Marine, Gen. Joseph Dunford.
If his nomination is confirmed by the Senate as expected, Rodriguez will succeed Gen. Carter Ham, who played a key role in the NATO air war in Libya.
As head of Africa Command, Rodriguez would help oversee counter-terrorism missions in Somalia, Yemen, Mali, Nigeria and elsewhere, as well as training and other efforts designed to bolster U.S. military ties across the region.
The command’s headquarters is based in Stuttgart, Germany. Panetta also named Gen. John Paxton as the new number two of the U.S. Marine Corps, as the outgoing assistant to the commandant, Dunford, will soon be taking over as the top U.S. and NATO military chief in Afghanistan.