Biden taps combat-trained officer to lead Central Command which works with Israel – The Times of Israel

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WASHINGTON – A three-star Army general with vast experience in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was nominated for the role of top US commander for Middle East.

President Joe Biden nominated Army Lieutenant General Erik Kurilla as the head of US Central Command. He will also be promoted to four star general, according multiple US officials.

The Senate Armed Services Committee notice states that Kurilla was nominated to be a general and doesn’t specify what job he would hold if confirmed. His nomination to the US Central Command was expected for many months. The planned job was confirmed by US officials under condition of anonymity, as it has not been made public.

If confirmed by the Senate Kurilla would take over from Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie who led the command for three years. He is expected to retire.

CENTCOM assumed responsibility for the US military relationship with Israel in September. Joint exercises have been held by CENTCOM and the IDF.

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Israel was previously kept within the EUCOM area of responsibility to avoid tensions between CENTCOM, the Arab and Muslim countries under its purview. Many of these nations did not have formal ties to Israel and therefore would not wish to be considered mutual allies. The US Central Command’s responsibility extends from the Middle East to Central Asia including the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, as well Pakistan.

In recent years, however CENTCOM’s Arab allies has increasingly developed relations with Israel. Some informally so these issues are largely gone.

Israeli F-15s accompany a US B-1B Lancer over Israel as part of a presence patrol above the US Central Command’s area of responsibility, October 30, 2021. (US Air Force/Senior Airman Jerreht Harris)

Kurilla would assume the role of the Pentagon’s new focus on the Indo-Pacific. This is in addition to trying to counter a rising China and increase defenses against Russia in Europe. Russia is assembling troops close to the Ukraine border, causing fears of an invasion.

The US has officially shifted its role in Iraq, from supporting and advising the forces of Iraq to combating terrorism, and has pulled all troops out of Afghanistan. Iran has repeatedly blocked the US strategy of putting more emphasis on Russia and China, forcing the Pentagon into maintaining a substantial troop presence in the Middle East and strong relationships with its allies.

In recent weeks, Iranian-backed militias have intensified their attacks against US and allied forces fighting in Syria and Iraq. They have made it clear that they want all US troops to leave Iraq and they have pledged to keep attacking until they are gone.

Since Monday, there have been at most three attacks on US bases in Syria and Iraq. These attacks were carried out by rockets as well as armed drones. Two drones carrying armed men were shot down Monday while they were heading towards a Baghdad airport facility for US advisers. On Tuesday, two drones with explosives were also destroyed when they attempted to attack an Iraqi military base that houses American troops in western Anbar.

Kurilla, who is from Elk River, Minnesota, is currently commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but previously served as the chief of staff at Central Command, working for McKenzie and, before that, Gen. Joseph Votel.

US Army 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla, right, and his soldiers pursue an insurgent sniper after two soldiers were shot and wounded in Mosul, Iraq, Feb. 10, 2005 (AP Photo/Jim MacMillan, File)

He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1988, and has served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanding conventional and special operations forces. He commanded a Stryker battalion in Iraq in 2004, and was shot and wounded.

He later was commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment, overseeing combat teams deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. He also served as director of operations at the Joint Special Operations Command and was commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.

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