Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan saluted Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel for expertly steering U.S. Central Command during profoundly complex times, as Votel turned over the reins of the command to Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. in Tampa, Florida, today.
Shanahan praised Votel for “getting stuff done” in the command’s area of operations. “In Syria and Iraq, you have cooperated within a coalition or 79 nations and international organizations to eliminate ISIS’s physical caliphate — a four-and-a-half year struggle that culminated just last week,” the secretary said.
The command has also spurred Afghanistan’s best chance for peace in 40 years as it supports ongoing negotiations and ensuring pressure on the Taliban to urge them to talk. The command is in the forefront of the “train, advise and assist” effort for Afghan allies, who lead every operation in the country today.
“You are helping resolve a humanitarian crisis in Yemen — creating conditions for peace negotiations to end the civil war there,” Shanahan said.
The command does all this while ensuring counterterrorism capabilities remain sharp throughout the area of operations.
Shanahan called Votel “a true renaissance man” who is “an unsurpassed leader, warfighter, diplomat, academic, problem-solver, you name it.”
Shanahan said Votel leaves Centcom in McKenzie’s “expert hands.” The Marine Corps general has the responsibility to carry on the long line of impressive Central Command commanders. “I have no doubt Centcom will thrive under his steadfast leadership,” Shanahan said. “That steady hand will be critical as our Department of Defense reorganizes resources to expand our competitive edge and military readiness in an era of renewed great power competition.”
Votel thanked the coalition represented inside Central Command, saying that fighting collectively proves to the world that aggression will not prevail.
“Together, we have accomplished a lot,” he said. “Our forces operating in conjunction with the Iraqi security forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated the ISIS caliphate and are now setting the conditions for the enduring military defeat of ISIS as our diplomats begin their critical work moving us toward a political solution in Syria. Because of us, a once defeated and retreating Iraqi army has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of 2014 and now proudly defends their country.”
Allies and partners also helped the command in Afghanistan, where there is now a path toward peace. “It will not be easy, and the path is both curvy and uphill,” the general said, “but we did this together and — inshallah (“God willing” in Arabic) — we will prevail toward our objectives.”
McKenzie told the men and women of U.S. Central Command that new challenges await them.
“I know that the battle-tested team at Centcom remains ready to do what has to be done,” he said. “I’m excited to follow Joe Votel, to build upon the remarkable work that he has done. It’s an honor to join this dedicated team of professionals. It’s good to be back and I am ready to fall in and join the team and continue to march.”