WASHINGTON (AP) — An Army general with extensive experience in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is being nominated by President Barack Obama to lead the military's Africa command, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday, amid growing U.S. worries about terrorism and unrest in that region.
Gen. David Rodriguez, currently head of U.S. Army Forces Command, would be the third Army general to head Africa Command, which was created in 2007.
Panetta said Rodriguez played a critical role in the surge of U.S. forces to Afghanistan and was a key architect of the military campaign plan now being implemented there. Rodriguez was the No. 2 U.S. commander in Afghanistan from 2009-2011.
Panetta said Rodriguez would be taking over a challenging job that has been involved in some very recent important missions.
The U.S. military's focus on Africa has grown in recent years, with the conflict last year in Libya and the increasing threat of al-Qaida linked terrorists who operate out of safe havens across the northern swath of the continent.
In recent months, the U.S. has also increased training efforts in a number of African nations, including in Mali where al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is training and operating out of safe havens in large, ungoverned spaces. AQIM-linked terrorists are believed to have played a key role in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
Rodriguez would replace Gen. Carter Ham, who took over Africa Command in March 2011.
The Africa Command office also came under recent scrutiny, when a Defense Department's Inspector General's investigation accused another former commander, Army Gen. William "Kip" Ward, of excessive, unauthorized spending on lavish travel and other expenses. Panetta is currently reviewing the case to determine if Ward should be punished. Ward was the first head of Africa Command.
Panetta also announced that Marine Lt. Gen. John Paxton is being nominated to become the next assistant commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. Paxton is currently the head of Marine Corps Forces Command, and the current assistant commandant, Gen. Joseph Dunford is being nominated as the next top commander in Afghanistan.
All of the nominations are subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate.