The US on Thursday nominated General Philip Breedlove, a veteran pilot in Europe, as the top commander of NATO a month after Afghan war supremo John Allen stepped aside.
US President Barack Obama said that Breedlove has “served with distinction” and hoped he would assume the new post by late spring. Breedlove has commanded US Air Force units in Europe and Africa since last year from Ramstein, Germany.
“General Breedlove has established trust and deep relations with our NATO allies and partners — assets he will draw upon in taking on this important new role on behalf of the US and the alliance,” Obama said in a statement.
If confirmed by the US Senate, Breedlove would take charge of the alliance at a critical time as the US and its partners wind down combat operations in Afghanistan. Breedlove would also head all US forces in Europe.
The nomination of Breedlove, which had been expected, was earlier announced by US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who described the general as “particularly well-qualified.”
The North Atlantic Council in Brussels approved the nomination.
The position is traditionally held by an American due to the dominant US role in the alliance. Breedlove would take over from Admiral James Stavridis, who has served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe since 2009.
Obama had earlier tapped Afghan war supremo General John Allen for the post, but last month accepted his withdrawal after the general cited family reasons.
Allen had been embroiled in a drama, but was cleared of any wrongdoing, over e-mails to a Florida socialite. The probe stemmed from a sex scandal that brought down his Afghan war predecessor General David Petraeus as head of the CIA.
Breedlove, 57, has spent nearly a third of his career in the US Air Force in Spain, Italy or Germany.
A native of the southern state of Georgia, Breedlove started his career in 1977 and has flown more than 3,500 hours on the F-16, the US Air Force’s most common fighter jet which has been exported by the thousands to US allies.
Breedlove took part in combat missions over Bosnia during the war in the mid-1990s. He also has experience flying the T-37 training plane and the C-21, a military version of a small business jet.
From 1983 to 1985, Breedlove was an F-16 instructor at the Torrejon air base in Spain. He then moved until 1990 to Ramstein in western Germany where he led an F-16 squadron.
Breedlove also has experience in Asia, having served in South Korea in 1993 and 1994. He then took on leadership positions before returning to Europe in 2004 at the Aviano base in Italy and then at Ramstein.
From January 2011 to July last year, Breedlove served as the air force vice chief of staff, allowing him to earn his fourth star.
When he was sent back to Germany, he was quoted as telling his wife Cindy, “I feel like we’re coming home.”