July 9th, 2010
01:56 PM ET

'Tough talking' general picked to oversee Iraq, Afghan wars

A controversial and leading U.S. general is in line to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Thursday.

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis - if he wins presidential and Senate approval - will move from being the outgoing commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command to leading the U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia - including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. It also monitors Iran.

He would take over the post left open by the departure of Gen. David Petraeus, who was asked to take over command of the war in Afghanistan.

Mattis was an effective leader in the Marine Corps, in the eyes of the Pentagon, while commanding troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Known for his straight talk and hard-core leadership of Marines in the 2004 battle of Falluja, Iraq, Mattis is considered a dark-horse pick by many in the halls of the Pentagon.

His blunt talk has gotten him in trouble: In 2005 he said, "It's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them," referring to people in Afghanistan.

Asked if the general would be an effective leader for the Central Command region with the shadow of the comments still lingering, Gates said, "Appropriate action was taken at the time. I think that the subsequent five years have demonstrated that the lesson was learned."

"Obviously, in the wake of the Rolling Stone interview, we discussed this kind of thing. 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," Gates said.

The Rolling Stone interview led to the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander in Afghanistan, because of negative comments about Obama administration officials made by him and his aides.

Mattis' comment in 2005 was made when the then-three-star general was in a panel discussion before an audience.

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- By CNN Senior Pentagon Producer Mike Mount

Filed under: Pentagon • Petraeus
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