Leon Panetta Will Become Next Defense Secretary

Apr 28, 2011, 11:14 by R.E. Christian

President Barack Obama is set to announce major changes in the U.S. national security team, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

In a briefing with reporters, the senior official confirmed the president will announce Thursday he is appointing CIA Director Leon Panetta to succeed Robert Gates as defense secretary. Gates announced last year he is retiring.

The administration official, speaking on background, confirmed reports Obama will announce he is appointing Army Gen. David Petraeus, whose tenure as commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan ends in a few months, to head the CIA.

Marine Lt. Gen. John R. Allen, deputy of the U.S. Central Command, likely would succeed Petraeus as the top troop commander in Afghanistan, and Ryan C. Crocker, a five-time ambassador who retired in 2009 after being the lead U.S. diplomat in Iraq, will be tapped to take over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the official said.

Officials told The Washington Post they didn't expect an announcement this week regarding Adm. Mike Mullen's position as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His second two-year term ends in September.

The administration official said Obama "has put in place here those nominees that provide the strongest possible team to execute our strategies and policies" and the changes will "provide for a seamless transition in each of these positions -- that is, no gap, no disruption in continuity of execution of policies."

If the Senate confirms Panetta's nomination, he would take over the Defense Department July 1, the official said.

The new national security team will implement the same strategy that Petraeus has been implementing in Afghanistan, the official said.

"It's the strategy that General Allen will implement in close consultations, again, assuming Senate confirmation with Ambassador Crocker," he said. "And that is the beginning of a transition from international security lead to Afghan lead and provinces over the course of this year."

Source: UPI