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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Washington (AFP) – U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is to resign on Monday, a senior official told reporters, after criticism of the campaigns in Afghanistan and against the Islamic State group.

The 68-year-old former senator and Vietnam war veteran was to join President Barack Obama at the White House later in the day to jointly announce his departure.

“In October, Secretary Hagel began speaking with the president about departing the administration … Those conversations have been ongoing for several weeks,” the adminstration official said.

“A successor will be named in short order, but Secretary Hagel will remain as Defense Secretary until his replacement is confirmed by the United States Senate.”

The White House did not give any clue who might be Hagel’s eventual replacement at the Pentagon, but the New York Times — which broke the news of his departure — cited three candidates.

Former under-secretary of defense Michele Flournoy is said to be in the running, along with Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island — a former army officer — and former deputy secretary of defense Ashton Carter.

Hagel, as a Republican senator, voted in favor of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, but later became a critic of the drawn out conflict that ensued and was taken on by Obama early last year to oversee the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Hagel’s experience as a non-commissioned officer who saw action in Vietnam was seen as a strength as he took on the job, but his public appearances have often appeared clumsy or underwhelming as the U.S. administration struggles to adapt to new conflicts.

“Over the past two years, Secretary Hagel helped manage an intense period of transition for the United States Armed Forces, including the drawdown in Afghanistan, the need to prepare our forces for future missions, and tough fiscal choices to keep our military strong and ready,” the official said.

“Over nearly two years, Secretary Hagel has been a steady hand, guiding our military through this transition, and helping us respond to challenges from ISIL to Ebola.”

AFP Photo/Jim Watson

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