Stephen J. Townsend (born 1959) is a United States Army four-star general, who serves as Commander, United States Africa Command since July 26, 2019. He previously commanded the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command from March 2018 until June 2019 and XVIII Airborne Corps from May 2015 until January 2018.
Townsend has served with the 82nd Airborne Division, the 7th Infantry Division, the 75th Ranger Regiment, the 78th Infantry Division, and the 10th Mountain Division. He fought in Operation Urgent Fury, Operation Just Cause, and Operation Uphold Democracy. With the 10th Mountain Division, he served in the War in Afghanistan, leading a task force in Operation Anaconda. Townsend commanded the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, leading it in the Battle of Baqubah in the Iraq War, and later served in command of the 10th Mountain Division in the War in Afghanistan. He became commander of XVIII Airborne Corps in May 2015 and, in late August 2016, took command of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, until III Corps commander Lieutenant General Paul E. Funk II took over command of the operation in 2017.
Early life and education
Townsend was born in Scheinfeld, Bavaria in 1959 to a German art student mother and an Afghan medical student father, the result of a love affair. He was adopted soon after birth by an American military family in Germany. His adoptive father, James Townsend, was a staff sergeant in an armored unit. Townsend grew up in Griffin, Georgia, graduating from Griffin High School in 1978. Townsend graduated from North Georgia College in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in psychology. He was commissioned into the Infantry from the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps thereafter. Later in life, Townsend also earned a Master of Military Arts and Sciences (MMAS) degree at the United States Army Command and General Staff College, and a Master of Strategic Studies (MSS) degree at the Army War College.
After earning his commission as a second lieutenant from North Georgia College in 1982, Townsend became a platoon leader, executive officer and assistant S3 in the 2nd Battalion (Airborne) of the 82nd Airborne Division's 505th Infantry Regiment. He participated in Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. He was transferred to the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord as the 4th Battalion, 21st Infantry S3. He became commander of the battalion's Alpha Company. After being transferred to Fort Benning, Townsend became S3 (Air) and assistant S3 at 75th Ranger Regiment headquarters. He participated in Operation Just Cause in Panama and later became commander of the 3rd Ranger Battalion's Charlie Company.
Townsend graduated from the Command and General Staff College and returned to Fort Benning, where he was Senior Liaison Office for the Ranger Regiment headquarters and the S3 of the 3rd Ranger Battalion. He participated in Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. Townsend was transferred to United States Pacific Command in Hawaii as J-5 Action Officer. He later became Special Assistant to the Combatant Commander. Townsend was sent to Fort Drum in New York, becoming S3 of the 78th Division (Training Support)'s 2d Brigade in 1999. In 2000, he became commander of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry in the 10th Mountain Division (Light). Townsend became commander of Task Force Polar Bear, deployed to Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda in 2002. Townsend graduated from the United States Army War College and became Division G3 of the 10th Mountain Division (Light) in 2003. From 2004, he was Director of Operations, C/J3 for Combined Joint Task Force 180 during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Townsend was appointed commander of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Lewis. He led Task Force Arrowhead during the Iraq War. Townsend led the brigade in the Battle of Baqubah in June 2007. Townsend became executive officer for the United States Central Command commander at Tampa, Florida. He then became senior commander at Fort Campbell and then was Deputy Commanding General (Operations) for the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) from 2009. Townsend served in the same position for Combined Joint Task Force 101 during Operation Enduring Freedom. He became Director of the Pakistan/Afghanistan Coordination Cell at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On 4 December 2012, Townsend became commander of the 10th Mountain Division. He also led Combined Joint Task Force 10 and Regional Command East at Bagram.
On 4 May 2015, Townsend became commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. He was promoted to lieutenant general shortly before. Townsend became commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve on 21 August 2016, replacing Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland. In this capacity he commanded US forces as they engaged in an air war (supported by special forces and limited Marine deployments plus material and intelligence support to bolster allied ground forces) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. U.S. airstrikes killed tens of thousands of ISIL fighters and catalyzed enormous losses in territory for them. Under Townsend, the CJTF-OIR coalition together with allies from the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Libyan Government of National Accord launched simultaneous successful offensives against ISIL's capitals in Syria, Iraq, and Libya respectively: the Raqqa campaign (2016–2017), the Battle of Mosul (2016–2017), and the Battle of Sirte (2016). By the end of 2017 ISIL no longer held any territory in Iraq or Libya, held very little territory in Syria, and was down to under ten thousand fighters in total. The Iraqi Parliament declared in December 2017 that ISIL had effectively been eradicated from Iraq, though ISIL insurgent activity continued regularly.
On 27 November 2017, Townsend was nominated for appointment as the next commanding general of United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and promotion to general. The nomination was confirmed by the United States Senate on 20 December. Townsend took command of TRADOC on 2 March 2018.
Townsend became the fifth commander of the United States Africa Command on July 26, 2019. He leads a command responsible for building defense capabilities, responding to crises, deterring and defeating transnational threats in order to advance United States national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity, all in concert with interagency and international partners. Africa Command is one of seven United States Department of Defense geographic combatant commands.
Awards and decorations
Townsend is the recipient of the following awards: