Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland to Lead U.S. Fight Against ISIS

Defense Secretary Carter appoints new leadership in the counter-ISIS campaign.

AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, Pool
Marcus Weisgerber And Patrick Tucker, Defense One
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Marcus Weisgerber and Patrick Tucker, Defense One
Oct. 26, 2015, 12:47 p.m.

The U.S. mil­it­ary has a new top com­mand­er for the fight against Is­lam­ic State mil­it­ants in Ir­aq and Syr­ia, and the re­gion is about to get a new spe­cial op­er­a­tions com­mand­er.

De­fense Sec­ret­ary Ashton Carter last month quietly put Army Lt. Gen. Sean Mac­Far­land in charge of the co­ali­tion fight­ing IS­IS in Ir­aq and Syr­ia. Carter an­nounced the ap­point­ment Fri­day, fol­low­ing a spate of cri­ti­cism that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s counter-IS­IS cam­paign lacked co­ordin­ated lead­er­ship as it stretched across agen­cies also in­clud­ing the White House, State De­part­ment, and in­tel­li­gence com­munity.

“Rather than three gen­er­als re­spons­ible for dif­fer­ent as­pects of the cam­paign, as had been the case, I have em­powered Lt. Gen. Mac­Far­land as the single com­mand­er of counter-ISIL activ­it­ies in both Ir­aq and Syr­ia,” Carter said. “His ef­forts will be crit­ic­al in the com­ing months as we con­tin­ue to provide sup­port for cap­able part­ners fight­ing on the front lines.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Army Maj. Gen. Dar­sie Ro­gers will re­place Maj. Gen. Mi­chael Nagata as com­mand­er of U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces in the Middle East, ac­cord­ing to a mil­it­ary of­fi­cial. Nagata over­saw the failed Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ef­fort to train Syr­i­an rebels to fight IS­IS. Nagata, who is highly re­garded among seni­or brass, is rumored to be in line for a seni­or po­s­i­tion at Na­tion­al Coun­terter­ror­ism Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, a post that would earn him a third star if con­firmed by the Sen­ate.  

Ro­gers, a Green Ber­et, was pre­vi­ously com­mand­er of the Army’s 1st Spe­cial Forces Com­mand at Fort Bragg, a po­s­i­tion he left in Au­gust. He has com­manded Spe­cial Forces in Ir­aq nu­mer­ous times in the past dec­ade. Ro­gers will take com­mand of U.S. Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand Cent­ral, or SOC­CENT, which is loc­ated at Mac­Dill Air Force Base, in Tampa, and co-loc­ated with U.S. Cent­ral Com­mand, which over­sees op­er­a­tions in the Middle East.  

Mac­Far­land re­places Lt. Gen. James Terry, who will con­tin­ue serving as the head of U.S. Army Cent­ral, or USAR­CENT, which com­mands Army forces in the Middle East.

An Ir­ish Cath­ol­ic from Up­state New York, Mac­Far­land is a West Point gradu­ate and is also the com­mand­ing gen­er­al of IIICorps and Fort Hood, in Texas, a po­s­i­tion he holds con­cur­rent to his new po­s­i­tion as com­mand­er for the Com­bined Joint Task Force for Op­er­a­tion In­her­ent Re­solve. But he is best known, per­haps, for his ef­forts as a col­on­el to se­cure the city of Ra­madi in 2007 and foster the Sunni Awaken­ing. “I was giv­en very broad guid­ance,” Mac­Far­land told USA Today in 2007. “Fix Ra­madi, but don’t des­troy it. Don’t do a Fal­lu­jah.”  

Mac­Far­land es­tab­lished 18 com­bat out­posts in and around Ra­madi. He then pur­sued part­ner­ships with vari­ous Sunni tri­bal sheiks, which res­ul­ted in an al­li­ance of more than 50 sheiks by the time Mac­Far­land’s bri­gade left Ir­aq, and even­tu­ally reach­ing more than 200 sheiks, ac­cord­ing to USA Today.

Ra­madi fell to IS­IS earli­er this year. Mil­it­ants have sur­roun­ded the city with im­pro­vised ex­plos­ive devices pre­vent­ing Ir­aqi sol­diers from re­cap­tur­ing the city, said Army Col. Steven War­ren, spokes­man for the counter-IS­IS mis­sion, on Oct. 1.

“[T]hey’re us­ing these IEDs al­most as land­mines, to cre­ate these mine­fields, which they can then cov­er with fire,” War­ren said.

Fri­day, Carter said: “We’re watch­ing re­cent mil­it­ary ad­vances in Baiji and around Ra­madi, which sug­gest that Ir­aqi forces may be re­gain­ing the ini­ti­at­ive.”

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