Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters that he was impressed with the general’s “strategic insight and independent thinking.”
Since 2007, he has held the post of commander of the Norfolk, Va.-based U.S. Joint Forces Command, which is in charge of future joint warfighting plans and operations.
The selection came as a surprise. On the one hand, Gen. Mattis has significant ground combat experience and is considered an intellectual who grasps the nuances of fighting a complicated counterinsurgency.
In 2005, Gen. Mattis, as a three-star general, said in a speech in San Diego that he enjoyed shooting the enemy.
“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil,” he said in the speech. “You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.”
His boss at the time, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee, said that the comments reflected the “unfortunate and harsh realities of war” but that Gen. Mattis had been asked to watch his words in public.
Mr. Gates said Thursday that appropriate action was taken at the time. He also said he raised the issue with Gen. Mattis when interviewing him for the job and was confident that such statements would not be made in the future.
“I think the subsequent five years have demonstrated that the lesson was learned,” he said.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he has been impressed watching Gen. Mattis interact with NATO allies, most recently as Gen. Mattis served as head of U.S. Joint Forces Command.
In 2004, Gen. Mattis‘ Marine division led the assault on Fallujah and he played a key role in helping Iraqi security forces negotiate with insurgents inside the city.
His remarks at the time of the battle suggest his thinking is very much in line with the counterinsurgency strategy pursued by Gen. Petraeus and Gen. McChrystal, which restricts military operations in order to win the support of the local population.
“All along we had intended a softer approach, using civil-military operations … unless someone chooses to fight, and then we would fight,” Gen. Mattis said in 2004. “Welcome to war with all its complexities and shifting centers of gravity.”
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