President Trump is expected to switch out commanders across the Middle East and Europe in the administration’s most dramatic change to the US military leadership so far, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal reported that the personnel shifts will affect officers fighting in the Middle East, as well as those working to counter Russia, overseeing Guantanamo Bay and engaging in stealth operations around the world.
Officials told the Journal that Army Lt. Gen. Richard Clarke is anticipated to be formally appointed to U.S. Special Operations Command, in Tampa, Fla. He would succeed Army Gen. Tony Thomas, who will retire next year. The Special Operations Command oversees the specialized forces of all military branches.
As of now, Clarke serves as the director of strategic plans and policy for the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. He also served as operation officer at Joint Special Operations Command when the Pentagon initiated the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. At that post, Clarke played a key role in the mission, participating in the planning, training and execution of the raid.
Trump will likely nominate two other commanders to replace retiring heads of regional combatant commands, several U.S. officials told the Journal.
Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters is anticipated to be chosen to head the U.S. European Command and North Atlantic Treaty Organization Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.
In the past, Wolters has served as the operations officer on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Wolters currently runs Air Force Europe, Air Force Africa, and Allied Air Command, all of which are based in Germany. He has especially focused on combating Russia in recent years.
Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. is expected to take on U.S. Central Command, after Army Gen. Joseph Votel, according to the Journal. That position is also out of Tampa and is thought of as the most prominent in the military. The post is responsible for all operations in the Middle East.
McKenzie is currently the director of the Joint Staff, which often situates officers well for top commands. He has years of experience in the nation’s capital as well as in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Journal reports that forces under the Special Operations Command have become increasingly important to the U.S. as it tries to lower its military presence across the world. Following from this emphasis, Trump nominated then commander of the Joint Special Operations Command Army Gen. Scott Miller to head up U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
McKenzie and Clarke’s nominations will both require Senate confirmation, though it is rare for Senators to move to block military promotions.
The Pentagon and the speculated nominees declined to comment to the Journal.
In addition, two other high-ranking military posts are set to open next year, with the retirement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joe Dunford and the vice chairman Air Force Gen. Paul Selva.
Several names have surfaced for the positions, including current Air Force chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein, Army chief of staff Gen. Mark Milley, and the head of U.S. strategic command Air Force Gen. John Hyten.
There may be two more additional openings, with the possible retirement of top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Army. Gen. John Nicholson and current commander of U.S. Forces, Korea Army Gen. Vince Brooks, officials told the Journal.