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US Marine Corps General McKenzie replaces retiring Votel as CENTCOM Commander

Newly promoted General Kenneth F. McKenzie on Thursday, March 28 took over the leadership of United States Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East including the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan.

At a ceremony led by Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, McKenzie pledged to continue the work done by his predecessor, General Joseph Votel, who is retiring.

Votel for his part said that while Islamic State had lost its “caliphate” and peace talks with the Taliban appeared to be progressing, the U.S. military presence in Syria and Afghanistan was still necessary.

“Our forces operating in conjunction with the Iraqi security forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated the ISIS caliphate and are now setting the conditions for the enduring military defeat of ISIS as our diplomats begin their critical work moving us toward a political solution in Syria,” he said.

“It is time to bring these conflicts to a conclusion. This won’t be as quick as anyone would like, but it can be done if we continue to keep our objectives and interests in mind, trust our partners, and enable our forces,” Votel stressed.

During his confirmation hearing in early December, McKenzie voiced concern about a premature U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, warning that local forces who took over the fight against the Taliban at the start of 2015 were not ready to go it alone.

“I don’t know how long it will take,” he said. “I do know that we’re working it very hard. I do know that they are making improvements. I do know that today it would be very difficult for them to survive without our and our coalition partners’ assistance. And we should remember that NATO and other nations are with us on the ground in Afghanistan.”

McKenzie, 62, led the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) on combat deployments to Afghanistan in 2004 and Iraq in 2005-06.

He then served as Military Secretary to the 33rd and 34th Commandants of the Marine Corps from 2006-07, before he was promoted to Brigadier General in July 2007 and moved to the Joint Staff.

He served as Deputy to the Deputy Chief of Staff (DCOS) for Stability for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan from June 2009, until July 2010, when he was assigned as CENTCOM’s Director, Strategy, Plans, and Policy (J-5).

He returned to Headquarters Marine Corps in August 2012, assuming command of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command in June 2014 when he was also promoted to Lieutenant General

He returned to the Joint Staff in October 2015, becoming Director in July 2017.

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With reporting from AFP

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