WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to name the Army’s top general, Mark Milley, as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. officials told Reuters on Friday, in a decision that appears to be coming months earlier than expected.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley (R) testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the implementation of the decision to open all ground combat units to women on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 2, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Trump hinted earlier on Friday that he would be announcing new military leadership on Saturday when he attends the Army-Navy football game.
“It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession,” he said.
Milley would succeed Marine General Joseph Dunford, who would normally stay in office as chairman until a slated Oct. 1, 2019 handover date. It was unclear whether that date would be brought forward as a result of an early announcement about his successor, if confirmed.
One U.S. official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity because the matter was not yet public, suggested that keeping Dunford in the job until Oct. 1 would be difficult for both him and Milley in such a scenario. Still, there was no sign yet that Trump was seeking to push Dunford out early.
Dunford, who was first selected by President Barack Obama in 2015 and then chosen by Trump to serve a second two-year term in 2017, has helped ensure continuity in military policy through two very different presidential administrations.
The Pentagon declined comment and was not expected to issue any statements before Trump speaks on Saturday.
Like many of America’s top generals, Milley comes from a military family, with both his parents having served in World War Two. Milley was two decades into his military carrier when al Qaeda militants launched the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against Washington and New York City.
“When that happened, I said I can’t retire: I had to stay until this thing is done,” Milley said in 2014 during an address at Princeton University, his alma mater.
Milley served in Iraq and on three tours in Afghanistan before becoming the Army’s chief of staff in 2015.
As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Milley would not be expected to usher in any major strategic shifts for the U.S. military. His views on the threats from Russia and China are in step with Pentagon top brass and the Trump administration.
He would take over as the Pentagon’s top military officer at a time when critics in Congress are accusing Trump of politicizing the military, including with his deployment of U.S. troops to the Mexico border.
Still, the position of chairman is a non-political post. Milley would be entrusted with providing both Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis with the best military advice on any national security issue, and carrying out orders.
The expected change in leadership is part of a routine, periodic rotation of top military posts that will also soon include new heads of military services, such as the Navy and Army.
COUNTERING RUSSIA, CHINA
As Army chief, Milley this year launched the Army’s Futures Command, which looks at ways to usher in a new generation of advanced weaponry to preserve America’s narrowing edge against potential adversaries like China and Russia.
“We are keenly aware that we need to shift gears rapidly into the modernization in order to make sure that we don’t have parity” with Russia and China, he told the Senate in April.
Another of Milley’s innovations at the Army was this year’s creation of special brigades to help advise local forces in counter-insurgency wars, including the 17-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.
The goal of creating specialized brigades — something he is likely to ensure continues as chairman — was to allow other forces to increasingly focus on the bigger military challenges posed by China and Russia.
Milley had long lamented the way the Army used to dismantle brigades to find soldiers to train Afghan forces.
“We were pulling it out of our butts, so to speak,” Milley said at the first brigade’s activation ceremony at Fort Benning in February. “We made it happen. But it wasn’t as good as it could have been.”
Reporting by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Susan Thomas, Jeffrey Benkoe and Daniel Wallis