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Obama Set To Name Panetta New Defense Secretary, Petraeus To Head CIA

April 27, 2011


WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to name General David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, to be the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and to make current agency chief Leon Panetta his new secretary of defense.

The reassignments are being prompted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates' plans to step down from the post he has held since 2006.

Petraeus, who assumed his Afghan command in June 2010, is expected to leave that post before the end of this year. His replacement is expected to be Lieutenant General John Allen, a former military leader in Iraq and the current deputy commander of U.S. Central Command.

Obama is also expected to announce a replacement for U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, who has had strained relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. military leaders during his two-year tenure.

Obama is expected to officially announce the personnel changes on April 28.

Change In Approach

The overhaul comes during what some are calling a make-or-break year in the Afghan war, and as Washington seeks to recalibrate its foreign policy in the Arab world as popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa test U.S. alliances.

Analysts say that the 58-year-old Petraeus will bring unique experience to the CIA, after years as a military commander in Iraq and Afghanistan who has used the agency's intelligence reports in tactical and strategic decisions.

"Being involved in both the wars and as head of the Central Command, [Petraeus] has had to work very closely with the intelligence community to carry out those conflicts," says Gary Schmitt, executive director of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board during Ronald Reagan's second term in office and now director of the Program on Advanced Strategic Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

"So he has a pretty good working set of ties with the intelligence community, which we would expect in war time."

'King David'

In 2003, then-Major General Petraeus was the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, which saw fierce fighting in the early days of the Iraq invasion.

Upon reaching Mosul, Petraeus led the division in operations that built security and stability, took measures to improve the economy, facilitated local elections, and launched more than 4,000 construction projects. The nation-building approach reportedly earned him the nickname "King David" among some Iraqis.

The U.S. magazine "Newsweek" has said of Petraeus's Iraq command: "It's widely accepted that no force worked harder to win Iraqi hearts and minds than the 101st Air Assault Division led by Petraeus."

His expected replacement in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Allen, was a commander in Iraq's western Anbar province during 2006 and 2007 when Sunni tribal leaders switched sides and began helping U.S. troops fight Al-Qaeda -- a development that U.S. military leaders say helped turn around the war.

Schmitt says there's a chance that the personnel reshuffle could prove disruptive to the White House's military strategy.

"I do worry that this will be the fourth commander of the [NATO-led military] mission that President Obama has, and as fine as some of those generals have been, that kind of turnover can't help but be disruptive, because when a general comes in he has a different style [and] a different demeanor and everybody has to adjust," Schmitt says. "So that kind of turnover is not healthy for a war effort."

Change In Kabul

Obama is also expected to name Ryan Crocker, who has served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon, to replace Karl Eikenberry as the top U.S. diplomat in Kabul.

Darrell West, the director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, says Afghan President Karzai's government will probably welcome a new face from Washington.

"I think the Afghan government will deal with whoever we send to that area," West says. "There have been tensions with Eikenberry, so they will probably be relieved to have a new person appointed there, [but] I think they understand that more and more responsibility is going to be put on their side and they need to be able to communicate effectively with the United States."

Cutting Defense

U.S. officials have expressed confidence that current CIA director Leon Panetta, who is 72, will make a strong defense chief.

One official who spoke to the AP said Panetta would draw on his ample experience in the field in his new role, having traveled more than 300,000 kilometers to more than 40 CIA stations, as well as to more than 30 countries, as the country's top intelligence chief.

Analysts say the Obama administration also views Panetta as capable of eliminating wasteful spending at the Pentagon, much as he helped lower the federal budget deficit in the 1990s as former President Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff.

Obama has tasked the Department of Defense with reducing its budget by hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming years.

The Brookings Institution's West describes this as a "great move, because Panetta brings a sense of both policy and political expertise to that job. He has done a very good job at the CIA [and] previously, in the Clinton administration, he managed the Office of Management and Budget. He is very knowledgeable about budget issues and I think that will be a big plus as the Department of Defense considers ways to get more efficient."

Officials say Panetta and Petraeus will step into their new jobs in July, which gives the White House several months to win needed Senate confirmation.

written by Richard Solash, with agency reports

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/panetta_defense_secretary_ petraeus_cia_eikenberry_allen_crocker_afghanistan/16795690.html

Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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