'Brawler' General to Lead Centcom

File picture shows General James Mattis at Kandahar International Airport, Afghanistan, in 2001. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates named Mattis Thursday as the new head of US Central Command or CENTCOM, which has overall control of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. (AFP/Pool/File/Dave Martin)

'Brawler' General to Lead Centcom

A US general once criticised for saying it was
"fun to shoot some people" has been picked by the Pentagon to replace
General David Petraeus as head of the military command overseeing the US
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

General James Mattis, who currently heads the US Joint Forces Command
in the US state of Virginia, and who previously led troops in Iraq and
Afghanistan, was selected to lead US Central Command, or Centcom, which
oversees operations in 20 countries stretching from Egypt across the
Middle East and into South and Central Asia.

Robert Gates, the defence secretary, praised
Mattis as "one of the military's most innovative and iconoclastic
thinkers" as he announced his recommendation for the post on Thursday.

Barack Obama, the US president, must formalise the nomination before
it goes to congress for approval.

Mattis was reprimanded by the Marine Corps for
telling a San Diego, California conference in 2005 that "it's fun to
shoot some people".

"I'll be right up front with you, I like brawling," he had said
during a panel discussion.

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five
years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said. "You know, guys
like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of
fun to shoot them."

On Thursday, Gates dismissed concerns about the comments, saying
appropriate action had been taken at the time - Mattis was reprimanded
and told to choose his words more carefully - and the four-star general
had learnt his lesson.

'Lesson learnt'

"I think that the subsequent five years have demonstrated that the
lesson was learnt, Gates said.

Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, who has held a number of posts in the
US government and military, echoed Gates' remarks.

Pointing out that Mattis' one-off comment was made five years ago, he
told Al Jazeera that the general had since proven himself as a
statesman, including by working with 27 nations in a Nato command

From 2007 to 2009, Mattis served as Nato's supreme allied commander
for transformation as he also led the US Joint Forces Command which
"focuses on supporting current operations while shaping US forces for
the future", according to its website.

Mattis had "the right experience for the job" and was the "right man
for the job", Kimmitt said.

Mattis, who had been due to retire, was picked for the Centcom post
after a shakeup following inappropriate comments made by General Stanley
McChrystal, which led to his June 23 sacking
as the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan.

General David Petraeus vacated his post as Centcom chief and agreed
to assume command of the Afghan war after McChrystal and his aides were
quoted making dismissive remarks about senior Obama administration
officials in a Rolling
magazine article.

"Obviously in the wake of the Rolling Stone interview, we discussed
this kind of thing," Gates said on Thursday. "And I have every
confidence that General Mattis will respond to questions and speak
publicly about the matters for which he is responsible in an entirely
appropriate way."

Al Jazeera and agencies

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