Obama names Panetta, Petraeus to defence, CIA posts
General David Petreus, commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, was named by Obama to become head of the Central Intelligence Agency in a pre-election year reshuffling of his national security team.
The president confirmed plans to nominate retired diplomat Ryan Crocker as the next ambassador to Afghanistan and Lieutenant General John Allen, deputy commander of US Central Command, to replace Petraeus.
"These are the leaders who I have chosen to help guide us through the difficult days ahead," Obama said at a ceremony in the White House.
An administration official had revealed the personnel shifts during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. All of the prospective nominees must be approved by the US Senate.
Gates, who became defence secretary under former president George W Bush in December 2006, had previously said he planned to leave the Pentagon this year. The White House hopes to have Panetta, 72, in change of the Pentagon by July 1, with Gates, 67, staying until then.
The changes come at a critical time in US policy, with ongoing upheaval in the Middle East, the remaining 50,000 US troops scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of the year, and the ongoing fight in Afghanistan against the Taliban.
Petraeus, 58, will stay in his current role to ensure continuity under the planned drawdown of some US forces scheduled for July. The White House wants him to assume his new role in September. He will retire from the Army to take the new job.
The White House wants to move to get Senate approval for Crocker, 61, by the end of spring to replace retired general Karl Eikenberry as ambassador in Kabul, the administration official said. Eikenberry has been said to have a thorny relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
As deputy commander of Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, South-Central Asia and part of Africa, Allen is already familiar with the conflict in Afghanistan.
Panetta took control of the CIA after Obama took office in January 2009. A former congressman from California, Panetta was former president Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and served on a commission known as the Iraq Study Group, which evaluated the Bush administration’s approach in Iraq.
Petraeus will again have a chance - albeit briefly - to work closely with Crocker. The two men worked together in Iraq to turn the tide against the violence that had seen the country descending into civil war. Petraeus, a four-star general and counterinsurgency expert, has been quickly rising up the US national security establishment.
Gates, a former CIA director and well-respected figure across the Democratic and Republican parties, reluctantly agreed to stay on after Obama’s election at the new president’s request. Gates took charge of the Pentagon after Bush’s party was hammered in 2006 midterm elections that led to the ouster of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.
One of the longest-serving defence secretaries, Gates’ tenure will be marked by the turnaround in Iraq and setting the stage for a US withdrawal, and bolstering the stalled effort in Afghanistan. Domestically, he is credited with reining in unnecessary spending on weapons programmes and overseeing Obama’s initiative to end the ban that kept homosexuals from serving openly in the military.
Obama commended Gates for his long service in government, having worked under seven presidents. An emotional Gates bid farewell to the men and women who serve in the military.
"I’ve done my best to care for them as if they were my own sons and daughters and will miss them deeply," Gates said.
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