Marine nominated to replace Petraeus

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Thursday nominated Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis to head up the U.S. Central Command, the final personnel change in a shake-up brought about by the dismissal of former Afghanistan commander Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates nominated Mattis to replace Gen. David Petraeus as the head the command responsible for the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia.

Last month, President Obama named Petraeus as the Afghanistan commander after relieving McChrystal of command.

Mattis, the head of U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., is a counterinsurgency expert who led the U.S. assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004.

A popular general among Marines, Mattis is well known for blunt and sometimes inappropriate comments, making his nomination surprising to some given the reason for McChrystal's firing.

In 2005, Mattis told a crowd in San Diego that "Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight," he said. "You know, it's a hell of a hoot.... It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you. I like brawling."

The audience laughed, but the Pentagon didn't. His superiors reprimanded him.

On Thursday, Gates said he was unconcerned about comments made five years ago and that Mattis has matured as a commander.