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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

Pentagon Proposes To Shrink U.S. Army To Pre-WWII Level

Washington (AFP) – The Pentagon plans to scale back the U.S. Army to its lowest level since before World War II in a proposed budget reflecting the end of 13 years of war in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday recommended shrinking the army from 520,000 active duty troops to 440,000-450,000, saying that “after Iraq and Afghanistan, we are no longer sizing the military to conduct long and large stability operations.”

If approved by Congress, the move would reduce the army to its lowest levels since 1940, before the American military dramatically expanded after entering World War II.

The proposed 13 percent reduction in the army would be carried out by 2017, a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

The move comes amid growing fiscal pressures and after years of protracted counter-insurgency campaigns, which saw the Army reach a peak of more than 566,000 troops in 2010.

US troops have already withdrawn from Iraq and President Barack Obama has promised to end America’s combat role in Afghanistan by the end of this year.

The Pentagon had previously planned to downsize the ground force to about 490,000.

But Hagel warned that to adapt to future threats “the Army must accelerate the pace and increase the scale of its post-war drawdown.”

He said the changes “would result in a smaller army, but would help ensure the army remains well-trained and clearly superior in arms and equipment.”

Hagel also said the army national guard and reserves would be cut by five percent.

The smaller force would entail some “added risk” but it would still be able to defeat an adversary in one region while also “supporting” air and naval operations in another, he said.

His comments confirmed the Pentagon has abandoned the idea of ensuring the army could fight two major wars at the same time.

The proposed budget also calls for scrapping the Air Force’s entire fleet of A-10 “Warthog” aircraft and retiring the storied U-2 spy plane.

Instead, commanders have opted to invest more in the new F-35 fighter and the unmanned Global Hawk surveillance drone.

Hagel also called for slowing growth in pay and benefits, which make up nearly half the Pentagon’s budget.

Military spending doubled after the attacks of September 11, 2001 but has started to decline as lawmakers push to slash the government’s budget and debt.

Under a bipartisan accord adopted in December, the Defense Department will have a $496 billion budget for fiscal year 2015.

But the Pentagon has a “wish list” of $26 billion that would fund new weapons and bolster training programs.

Hagel warned that if automatic budget cuts resume in two years, the effects would be devastating and force more drastic reductions in manpower and equipment.

The full U.S. federal budget will be presented officially on March 4.

Photo: Secretary of Defense via Flickr

Gates: Obama Didn’t Believe His Own War Strategy

Washington (AFP) – Former defense secretary Robert Gates has delivered a scathing critique of President Barack Obama’s handling of the war in Afghanistan in a revealing new memoir, the media reported.

In “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War,” Gates recounts how Obama appeared to lack faith in a war strategy he had approved and in the commander he named to lead it, according to The New York Times and The Washington Post. He said the president also did not like Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“As I sat there, I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” Gates writes of a March 2011 meeting in the White House.

“For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Having approved deploying more than 30,000 forces after an acrimonious White House debate, the U.S. president seemed plagued by doubts and surrounded by civilian aides who sowed distrust with the military, Gates writes.

Obama was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in the memoir, which is due to be released on January 14.

In contrast to his subdued, even-keeled public demeanor as Pentagon chief, Gates strikes a sometimes bitter tone in his memoir.

The former CIA director whose career dates back to the Nixon administration voices frustration at the “controlling nature” of Obama’s White House, which he says constantly interfered in Pentagon affairs, even though civilian aides lacked an understanding of military operations.

The White House national security staff “took micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level,” he writes, comparing the approach to the 1970s Nixon era.

“All too early in the administration,” Gates writes, “suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials — including the president and vice president — became a big problem for me as I tried to manage the relationship between the commander-in-chief and his military leaders.”

After a tense meeting on Afghanistan in September 2009, Gates says he came close to resigning because he was “deeply uneasy with the Obama White House’s lack of appreciation — from the top down — of the uncertainties and unpredictability of war.”

A statement from National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden later defended Obama’s record on Afghanistan.

“It is well known that the president has been committed to achieving the mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al-Qaeda, while also ensuring that we have a clear plan for winding down the war,” she said.

Hayden also hit back at Gates’s assertion that Vice President Joe Biden had been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

“The president disagrees with secretary Gates’s assessment… Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time and has helped advance America’s leadership in the world,” she said.

A White House official separately defended Obama’s record on both Afghanistan and Iraq.

“It’s well known that as a matter of principle and sound policy, President Obama opposed going to war in the first place, opposed the surge of forces and then ended the war in Iraq as president. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong,” the official said.

On Afghanistan, the official said Obama “has always been firmly committed to the strategy that secretary Gates helped designed and that our troops have so ably carried out in Afghanistan, while also insisting that we have a clear plan to wind down the war.”

Gates, however, gives credit to Obama for approving the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, which he himself initially opposed.

It was “one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed in the White House,” the former Pentagon chief writes.

Although Gates heaps praise on former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, he is stunned by an exchange between Obama and Clinton in which the two openly admitted they opposed a troop surge in Iraq in 2007 for purely political reasons.

“To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying,” he says.

Gates helped oversee the deployment of additional troops to Iraq during the Bush administration.

A Republican, Gates served under ex-president George W. Bush and was asked to stay on at the Pentagon for two years after Obama entered office.