Politics & Government

Obama names Dempsey as Joint Chiefs chair as defense shakeup continues

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday announced that a four-star general who commanded troops in Iraq through much of the war, Gen. Martin Dempsey, is his choice to be the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the president's top military adviser.

Obama named Adm. James Winnefield as vice chairman. Army Gen. Ray Odierno will replace Dempsey as chief of staff of the Army.

The announcements mark another step in the profound remaking of the nation's defense hierarchy at a time of change as the military draws down in Iraq and faces a decision in July on whether the draw down in Afghanistan as well.

Earlier, Obama had announced that CIA director Leon Panetta would succeed outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and that Afghanistan commander Army Gen. David Patreaus would replace Panetta at the CIA.

Still unanswered is who will command forces in Afghanistan and how the Obama team will end U.S. involvement in the war there.

The military also faces pressure for smaller budgets. It must determine what role it will play in the world's least stable places, while it rebuilds equipment worn down after a decade of war.

Obama appointed Dempsey as the Army chief only a month ago, at a time when it appeared that Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman, would move up as chairman. But Cartwright's appointment was opposed by many at the Pentagon over his advocacy last year of a smaller Afghanistan surge than Gates had proposed, and in the end Obama chose not to name him.

Dempsey commanded the Army's 1st Armored Division in Iraq in 2003 and fought a growing Iraq insurgency. His troops were kept in Iraq after they were scheduled to return home in order to fight an uprising by followers of radical cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

Dempsey later returned to Iraq to oversee the training of Iraqi forces. He also served as acting commander of Central Command, the military organization that oversees a wide area, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama said he was grateful for the leadership of the current chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, and Cartwright, the vice chairman.

"These two men have served our nation with distinction for decades, and I look forward to paying tribute to their lives of service in the months ahead," Obama said, speaking at the White House Rose Garden before going to Arlington National Cemetery for a Memorial Day observance.

"Today, I'll simply say that, like President Bush before me, I've deeply valued Mike's professional steadiness and his personal integrity. On his watch, our military forces have excelled across the whole spectrum of missions, from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan to relief efforts after the Haiti earthquake," Obama said.

In his comments at the White House, the president also paid tribute to all 2.2 million members of the nation's armed forces.

"Theirs was the ultimate sacrifice, but it is one that every man and woman who wears America's uniform is prepared to make, so that we can live free," he said.

Gates, who appeared with Obama in the Rose Garden, said in a statement that he supported the commander-in-chief's choices. In a statement, he said. Dempsey, Winnefield and Odierno have the "right mix of intellectual heft, moral courage, and strategic vision."

Mullen's term as chairman ends in the fall, and Cartwright's term ends in the summer. Obama said he was announcing their successors early to allow for a transition. The positions require Senate confirmation.

Winnefeld commanded carrier strike groups that fought the Taliban in Afghanistan in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He later commanded a carrier strike group that was involved in air operations over Iraq. Winnefeld also is a former NATO commander.

Odierno served three deployments to Iraq. He oversaw the shift in strategy to "surge" more troops to end violence and the transition to Iraqi forces.

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