FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii (AP) — An Australian two-star general will become a deputy commander of U.S. Army Pacific, which oversees more than 60,000 American soldiers in the Asia-Pacific region, Army Secretary John McHugh said Monday.

Maj. Gen. Richard Maxwell Burr of the Australian Defense Force will direct training and supervise the command's efforts to work with countries in south Asia, plus Australia and New Zealand.

McHugh told reporters Monday that the appointment is an extension of previous cooperation between Australia and the United States.

"The Australians have been one of, if not the most, critical partners in places like Afghanistan," McHugh said. "We've got a lot of great allies, but clearly Australia has been chief amongst them."

Maj. Gen. Roger Matthews, another of the command's deputy commanding generals, said Burr gives U.S. Army Pacific a regional expert who understands the intricacies of dealing with American allies. Other allies have asked about similar opportunities, he said.

Matthews will work on logistics, modernizing the force, and other issues. U.S. Army Pacific also has deputy commanders for the Army Reserve and Army National Guard.

Burr will report to Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, a three-star general and U.S. Army Pacific's top commander since March 2011. U.S. Army Pacific is responsible for most U.S. soldiers in the region, except those in South Korea.

The move is part of a broader U.S. strategy to focus attention on Asia and the Pacific.

The Obama administration in January adopted a new defense strategy to boost the country's presence in Asia because of the region's economic importance and China's rise as a military power. It aims to maintain American military pre-eminence worldwide even as the U.S. cuts spending to reduce the nation's deficit.

As part of the shift, the U.S. plans to assign 60 percent of the Navy's fleet to the Pacific Ocean by 2020. Currently, the Navy divides its roughly 285 ships equally between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.