WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior Army three-star general with extensive experience in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has been nominated to become the top US commander for the Middle East.
President Joe Biden has nominated Army Lt. Gen. Erik Kurilla to head US Central Command and be promoted to four-star general, according to multiple US officials.
The Senate Armed Services Committee notice says only that Kurilla has been nominated to become a general, and does not detail which job he would get if confirmed. But his nomination for US Central Command has been expected for several months. US officials confirmed the planned job on condition of anonymity because it has not yet been made public.
If confirmed by the Senate, Kurilla would replace Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, who has led the command for the past three years and is expected to retire.
CENTCOM officially assumed responsibility for the US military’s relationship with Israel at the beginning of September. The IDF and CENTCOM have sine held a number of joint exercises.
Israel had previously been kept in the area of responsibility of EUCOM in order to prevent possible tensions between CENTCOM and the Arab and Muslim nations under its purview, many of whom did not maintain formal ties with Israel, and would therefore not want to be considered as mutual allies. The US Central Command’s area of responsibility stretches across the Middle East to Central Asia, including the Persian Gulf region, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In recent years, however, CENTCOM’s Arab allies have increasingly developed relations with Israel, some informally, so these issues have largely faded.
Kurilla would take over as the Pentagon continues to try and shift its focus to the Indo-Pacific and counter a rising China, and to bolster defenses against Russia in Europe, where Moscow is massing troops near the Ukraine border, fueling fears of an invasion.
The US has withdrawn all forces from Afghanistan and has now formally shifted its role in Iraq from combat to advising and assisting the Iraqi forces. But the US strategy to put more emphasis on China and Russia has been repeatedly stymied by Iran, forcing the Pentagon to maintain a significant troop presence across the Middle East and cultivate strong relations with allies in the region.
In recent weeks, Iranian-backed militia groups have increased the pace of their attacks on US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria. The groups have made it clear they want all US troops out of Iraq, and have vowed to continue attacks until they are gone.
Since Monday there have been at least three attacks on bases that house US forces in Iraq and Syria. The attacks included strikes by rockets and armed drones. Two armed drones were shot down Monday as they headed for a facility housing US advisers at the Baghdad airport, and two explosives-laden drones were destroyed as they targeted an Iraqi military base housing American troops in western Anbar province on Tuesday.
Kurilla, who is from Elk River, Minnesota, is currently commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but previously served as the chief of staff at Central Command, working for McKenzie and, before that, Gen. Joseph Votel.
He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1988, and has served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanding conventional and special operations forces. He commanded a Stryker battalion in Iraq in 2004, and was shot and wounded.
He later was commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment, overseeing combat teams deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. He also served as director of operations at the Joint Special Operations Command and was commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.