Defense Secretary Leon Panetta yesterday said President Obama intends to nominate Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd Austin as the next commander of U.S. Central Command.

Panetta called Austin “one of the military’s most seasoned combat leaders–with extensive experience in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.”

During his final deployment to Iraq, Austin oversaw the drawdown of U.S. forces and equipment, simultaneously helping to ensure security gains were preserved and that the Iraqi people could be secure and govern themselves. Austin would bring “an important combination of strategic thinking, regional knowledge and proven judgment to one of the most critical posts in the department.”

Panetta also said Austin fits the mold of the “extraordinary CENTCOM commander he would succeed, Marine Gen. James Mattis…who I believe will go down as one of the most celebrated battlefield leaders and strategic military thinkers of our time.”