In announcing Monday he would nominate Gen. Martin Dempsey to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Obama concluded a broad reshuffling of his national-security team just as the administration is heading into a new debate over bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan.
WASHINGTON — In announcing Monday he would nominate Gen. Martin Dempsey to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Obama concluded a broad reshuffling of his national-security team just as the administration is heading into a new debate over bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan.
Dempsey, who if confirmed by the Senate would take over from Adm. Mike Mullen as the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, has not taken a public position on how many troops should be withdrawn starting in July, the date set by the president for beginning to reduce the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
But he will be walking into a debate that has been simmering within the administration for two years. On one side are those who want to maintain troop levels as much as possible and to continue a counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes clearing key regions of Taliban fighters and helping the Afghan government build stable institutions. On the other are those who want to focus on counterterrorism, using fewer troops to carry out targeted strikes on al-Qaida and Taliban forces.
Obama gave no hint of which way he was leaning, saying only that he expected Dempsey, now the Army chief, to present him with a full range of options on how to begin bringing U.S. troops home.
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“I’ll be looking to you, and the rest of the Joint Chiefs, for what I value most in my advisers, your honest, unvarnished advice, and the full range of options, especially when it comes to our most solemn obligation, protecting the lives of our brave men and women in uniform,” Obama said to the general in a ceremony in the Rose Garden.
To fill the fresh vacancy of Army chief of staff, Obama said he would appoint Gen. Ray Odierno, another veteran four-star commander from Iraq who has served for the past year as head of the Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk, Va. Obama also named Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr., head of the military’s Northern Command, to take over as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
As chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Dempsey will become the president’s senior military adviser, working alongside Leon Panetta, the Central Intelligence Agency director, who is in line to become defense secretary when Robert Gates retires in late June, and Gen. David Petraeus, a strong proponent of the counterinsurgency strategy and the commander in charge of carrying it out, who will take over from Panetta at the CIA.