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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