CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian army general who led a secretive military operation to stop asylum seekers from coming to Australia by boat was named on Monday as the country's next defense force chief.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Lt. Gen. Angus Campbell will replace Air Chief Marshall Mark Binskin as chief of the Australian Defense Force in July. Binskin will retire after four years in the top job.
Campbell came to public attention as the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, an operation established by a newly elected conservative government in 2013 to stop thousands of asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and Asia from reaching Australian shores in rickety Indonesian fishing boats at a rate of 37 boats a month.
No asylum seeker boat has reached Australia since July 2014, although the government is secretive about what tactics are used to stop them.
The government recently announced that 32 boats carrying 800 people had been turned back to Indonesia since 2013, a practice that Indonesians consider an affront to their sovereignty.
Campbell was promoted to chief of the army in 2015.
Questioned by reporters on Monday, Campbell declined to say whether he was concerned by China's militarization in the South China Sea.
"We have a very constructive relationship with China and that's all I intend to say," he said.
Turnbull said the appointment came at a critical time, with Australia undertaking the largest modernization of its defense capabilities in its peacetime history.
Turnbull announced the appointment before flying to Britain, France and Germany for security-focused talks with government leaders.