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Report: Ashton Carter Likely Next U.S. Defense Secretary

Washington (AFP) – The former number-two ranking official at the Pentagon, Ashton Carter, likely will be named as the next U.S. defense secretary, CNN reported Tuesday.

President Barack Obama was poised to name Carter to replace outgoing Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel, “barring any last minute complications,” CNN reported, citing several unnamed administration officials.

Pentagon officials acknowledged to AFP that Carter was on a short list of candidates for the post but could not confirm if a final decision had been taken.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced his resignation last week, with officials privately saying he was forced out after losing the confidence of the White House.

Carter, 60, has gained a reputation as an expert on hi-tech weapons and military budgets, portraying himself as a reformer intent on making the vast Pentagon bureaucracy more efficient.

While Carter is fluent with weapons programs and technological trends, he has less experience overseeing war strategy and has never served in uniform — unlike his predecessor, Hagel, who was wounded in the Vietnam War.

An academic by training who holds a doctorate in theoretical physics from the University of Oxford, Carter worked in the Pentagon during Bill Clinton’s presidency overseeing nuclear arms policies and helped with efforts to remove nuclear weapons from Ukraine and other former Soviet territories.

A former professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Carter served as the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer from 2009 to 2011 and then as deputy defense secretary until 2013.

AFP Photo/Jung Yeon-Je

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel To Resign

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

Obama To Name San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro To Cabinet Friday

By Todd J. Gillman, The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON — On Friday, President Barack Obama will name San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to serve as the nation’s next secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a White House aide said.

Rumors began to circulate last weekend that Castro would come to Washington as part of a Cabinet shuffle. The president plans to name current HUD secretary Shaun Donovan as his new budget director. He replaces Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the president’s choice to run the Department of Health and Human Services.

The president, joined by Castro and Donovan, will announce the appointments Friday afternoon at the White House, the aide said.

“The president is thrilled that Secretary Donovan will take on this next role and believes that Mayor Castro is the right person to build on his critical work at HUD based on his work in San Antonio,” the aide said. “In five short years, Mayor Castro has made significant progress in San Antonio and put the city and its citizens on a new trajectory. He has been a leader among mayors in terms of implementing housing and economic development programs and under his leadership San Antonio has been highly successful at lifting educational attainment and spurring job creation. He has built good relationships with other mayors and key partners in the administration’s placed-based initiative strategy. The president is excited about the mayor bringing his practical, on-the-ground success to scale at the federal level.”

Donovan’s previous job had been commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

HUD has a $47 billion budget. Its missions including helping with home buying, distressed communities and homelessness. Donovan also has been overseeing federal efforts to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

Castro, 39, is serving his third term as mayor of San Antonio. Like the president, he has a law degree from Harvard. He won the mayor’s job in in 2009 and was re-elected in 2011 and last year.

The White House cited his work to revitalize inner city neighborhoods.

His twin, Rep. Joaquin Castro, is a freshman congressman from San Antonio. Both are seen as rising stars among Texas Democrats.

HUD was created in 1965 under Lyndon Johnson. Castro would be the third Texan to lead the department — and the second former San Antonio mayor, after Henry Cisneros, a Democrat who served during Bill Clinton’s first term. Alphonso Jackson, a former Dallas Housing Authority chief, served during Republican George W. Bush’s second term.

©afp.com / Mandel Ngan