A man who was once described as an “invisible general” who holds master’s degrees in both education and business management is in charge of the military operations against the jihadist group Islamic State and the al-Qaeda franchise Khorasan in Syria and Iraq.
A Department of Defence spokesperson confirmed to Business Insider in an email Tuesday that General Lloyd J. Austin III is the “combatant commander” of the operations in both countries through his role as the Commander of US Central Command.
As CENTCOM commander, Austin oversees the US military presence in 20 countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. His role means Austin is leading the military operations in Syria and Iraq and head the strategic planning for the efforts to fight ISIS and Khorasan in both countries.
The US began airstrikes against Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL, in Iraq last month. On Monday night, the US launched strikes against ISIS and the Khorasan group in Syria. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama made the decision to expand the operations to Syria after meeting with Austin at CENTCOM headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida on Sept. 17.
“The President was briefed on the plan that had been developed when he was at CENTCOM by General Austin and other military leadership,” Earnest said. “The following day is when he gave the authorization to move forward with those strikes. And at that point, it shifted to the discretion of the commander, General Austin.”
New York Times reporter Ernesto Londono dubbed Austin “an invisible general” in a profile earlier this month because, “unlike several of his predecessors, General Austin has kept a low profile.”
Londono said Austin’s penchant for privacy has helped him rise through the ranks because “the invisible commander is the type of general the Obama administration appears to favour these days.”
“He shuns the limelight, largely avoids engaging in politics and seldom speaks to the press, often declining interviews. In an age when many generals tweet and blog, he most certainly does not,” Londono wrote of Austin.
According to his official biography, Austin, 61, is from Thomasville, Georgia. He attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. In 1975, after he graduated, Austin became an Infantry second lieutenant.
In addition to his studies at West Point, Austin’s official biography notes he earned “a Master’s Degree in Education from Auburn University and a Master’s Degree in Business Management from Webster University.”
Austin was assigned to Defence Department headquarters at the Pentagon in 1999 after serving at Fort Bragg, where he held multiple command positions and eventually became vice chief-of-staff of the Army. At the Pentagon, Austin also had multiple command roles, and served as the commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom from February 2008 until April 2009.
After a stint as the director of the Pentagon’s joint staff, Austin served as commanding general of US forces in Iraq from September 2010, and oversaw the Americal withdrawal from the country in December of 2011.
During his 39-year military career, Austin has earned a long list of awards and decorations including the Silver Star and the Defence Distinguished Service Medal.
Austin was chosen to lead CENTCOM last year. At CENTCOM, Austin replaced Gen. James Mattis, who, according to reporter Tom Ricks, was pushed out because of disagreements with the Obama administration about how to handle Iran.
In a speech at the ceremony when Austin took over command of CENTCOM, Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel noted he was arriving “at a time of dramatic change, challenge, and turmoil in its area of responsibility.” Hagel also complimented Austin’s “calm demeanor, strategic vision, regional experience and knowledge, and proven judgment.”
While leading to troops in Iraq, Austin became the first African-American to command a corps in combat. He is also the first African-American CENTCOM commander. However, Austin has been quoted saying he didn’t want his race to become a focus.
“If you talk to Tiger Woods today, and you asked him how he felt about being the best African American golfer in the world, he would tell you that you don’t want to be known as the best African American golfer. He wants to be known as the best golfer,” Austin said.
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