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Then-Lt. Gen. David Goldfein, who was serving as commander of Air Forces Central Command at the time, speaks during the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing change of command ceremony at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, June 13, 2012. Air Force photo by SrA. Brett Clashman.

​​Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force vice chief of staff, is now considered the likely successor to Gen. Mark Welsh as USAF’s top uniformed officer, Pentagon sources report. Gen. John Hyten, head of Air Force Space Command, had been considered the leading candidate until recently, but sources said Defense Secretary Ash Carter prefers a combat veteran airman to lead the service during the ongoing air war against ISIS. Goldfein, a 33-year veteran who flew combat in Iraq, the Balkans, and Afghanistan, has intimate knowledge of the ISIS fight. His last two jobs were, respectively, commander of Air Forces Central Command and director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. The Air Force recently announced Welsh will retire effective July 1. During a four-star panel at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in February, Welsh hinted strongly that a non-pilot would be the next Chief, and after extolling the growing importance of space operations, asked Hyten to comment on the two topics; Hyten demurred from answering directly. Sources say that Hyten is now the top contender to succeed Adm. Cecil Haney as head of US Strategic Command.