Gen. Joseph Dunford frontrunner to lead Afghan war, report says


Gen. Joseph Dunford, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, addresses Marines and sailors at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, in May. (Marine Corps photo)

Could another Marine soon be leading the war in Afghanistan?

A report in The Wall Street Journal this morning suggests that the frontrunner to replace Gen. John Allen as the next head of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is none other than Gen. Joseph Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly recommended him to the White House for the job.

From the story:

Defense officials said Gen. Dunford is a firm supporter of the Afghan war strategy of Mr. Obama, who has called for continued drawdowns of U.S. forces through the end of 2014.

Gen. Dunford’s backers say he could be an effective communicator with the public, forcefully articulating the military’s mission in Afghanistan as it withdraws. Officials said Gen. Dunford would focus on training the Afghan security forces and preparing them to secure the country, jettisoning larger ambitions of improving the Afghan central government.

Dunford is widely considered one of the brightest leaders in the Corps, but has never served in Afghanistan. He picked up the nickname “Fighting Joe” while leading Regimental Combat Team 5 during the initial invasion of Iraq and serving under then Maj. Gen. James Mattis, who is now the four-star head of U.S. Central Command.

It’s well known that Allen will likely move on to become the next head of U.S. European Command early next year, before the next fighting season in Afghanistan begins. The Wall Street Journal report raises as many questions as it answers, though.

First, if Dunford is heading to Kabul, who would become the next ACMC? There’s only a handful of general officers who’d seemingly have the pedigree. Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of I Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Forces Central Command, is one. Lt. Gen. Richard Tryon, deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations, is another. Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, deputy commandant for combat development and integration is a third.

The move also would raise questions about where else musical chairs may occur. Does Mattis, the longest serving Marine general, retire? Does Gen. John Kelly, recently named the head of U.S. Southern Command, fit better somewhere else?

Currently, there are five Marine four-star officers: Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, Dunford, Kelly, Mattis and Allen. If a three-star general is promoted to replace Dunford as ACMC, that could make six unless someone retires.

Under U.S. law, only two four-star Marine officers — the commandant and ACMC — can serve in the Corps at any one time. However, other four-star Marines can lead joint commands, or serve as JCS chairman or vice chairman. The president also can increase the number of three- or four-star generals in one service as long as there is a corresponding decrease in another service.


About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.


  1. “Defense officials said Gen. Dunford is a firm supporter of the Afghan war strategy of Mr. Obama.

    In other words he’s a spineless coward who tramples all over the oath he swore and has no problem in aiding with the slaughter of young Americans for no reason at all.

    This man swore an oath to the constitution, not the president. This war and it’s strategy goes against the constitution.

  2. What? Afghanistan is a training ground for Islamic extremists. We are at war, and will be for some time, against these extremists. They are still there fighting us, that is why they are not here fighting us. You choose. And no, he is not violating the Constitution, he is obeying the Commander n Chief and doing his sworn duty.

    The spinless cowards are the one’s like you that want to stick their head in the sand and pretent all is well in the World.

  3. Who cares if we have 5 four stars? The Navy has about five admirals for every ship. It’s not like these guys are having a pissing contest everytime they meet up to see who the ‘real’ four stars are.

  4. Pingback: Battle Rattle - A Marine Corps Times Blog – Commandant on Dunford-to-Afghanistan speculation: 'I like right where he is'

  5. Pingback: Battle Rattle - A Marine Corps Times Blog – Commandant on Dunford-to-Afghanistan speculation: ‘I like right where he is’

  6. KMAX, do you even remember your Oath of Enlistment? Let me help you.

    “I [state your full name] do solemly swear to support and defent the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegeance to the same, and to OBEY THE ORDERS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES and the officers appointed over me in accordance with regulation and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so help me God”

    Emphasis mine. Getting really sick of people trying to break half of their oath by portraying our own Commander in Chief as a “Domestic Enemy”.

  7. Psy,

    Officers do not take an oath of enlistment, as they are not enlisted. They take an oath of office, which includes no provisions about “obeying the orders of the Officers appointed over me and the President of the United States.”

    Military Officers swear only to the US Constitution.

  8. KMAX Says: “he’s a spineless coward who tramples all over the oath he swore” and to that comment Mr KMAX, you sir are without a doubt, a true idiot.

    Having served with General Dunford, I can assure you that he is without a doubt one of the finest officers that the Corps has ever had. Ask anyone that has served with him in both peace time and combat situations.

    You hide behind your computer and talk trash, like so many others. No doubt a little man with a big attitude.

    Congratulations to General Dunford, without a doubt, the man for the job.

    Semper Fi

  9. Pingback: Battle Rattle - A Marine Corps Times Blog – Behind the Cover: MARSOC expands

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