This General Is About To Become America’s Top Special Operations Officer

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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The Pentagon has just reportedly picked Army Lt. Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas for its new head of U.S. Special Operations, who is known for speaking bluntly and “pissing important people off.”

While the pick is unconfirmed, if chosen, Thomas will move from being head of Joint Special Operations Command to replacing Army Gen. Joseph Votel at SOCOM, said an unnamed defense official, The Washington Post reports.

The reason why the pick is so notable is because successive administrations increasingly rely on special operations to conduct counter-terrorism operations in unpredictable and unstable scenarios. JSOC goes where conventional ground forces won’t, a strategy recently used by the Obama administration to evade the charge of “boots on the ground” in places like Syria.

“This administration has seen Special Operations to be a very effective tool in counter-terrorism,” Paul Scharre, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, told The Tampa Bay Times.

Thomas, a West Point graduate in 1980, formerly served as a deputy commander in northern Iraq. This means he has deep knowledge of the city of Mosul, an area that will increase in importance this year, as the Iraqi military plans to take it back from Islamic State forces. As head of JSOC, Thomas gave an interview last year, in which he discussed the difficulties involved in combating ISIS.

“From a leadership standpoint, if we can’t explain to the nation, to subordinates, to the collective whole what we’re trying to accomplish, then our strategy is by nature ill-defined and harder to achieve,” the general said in an interview at West Point. “I’m told ‘no’ more than ‘go’ on a magnitude of about ten to one on a daily basis,” Thomas said, in reference to low approval rates from the Pentagon. “I have to regulate my own frustration there to make sure it doesn’t trickle down to the force.”

His bluntness has sometimes gotten him into trouble. Former Ranger Andrew Exum noted in a blog post in 2008 that Thomas has a penchant for “pissing important people off.”

Votel, meanwhile, is set to take over as head U.S. Central Command.

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