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Obama to Reshuffle National Security Team

Kent Klein | The White House April 27, 2011

President Barack Obama is making sweeping changes in his national security team. The president Thursday will name a new defense secretary, a CIA director, an ambassador to Afghanistan and a commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

A senior administration official says President Obama will announce four appointments on Thursday.

He is naming Leon Panetta, the current CIA director, to replace Robert Gates, who is retiring after four years as defense secretary. General David Petraeus, who commands NATO forces in Afghanistan, will retire from the military and succeed Panetta as leader of the intelligence agency.

Marine Corps Lieutenant General John Allen, deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, will take Petraeus’ place in charge of the military operations in Afghanistan. And longtime diplomat Ryan Crocker will be the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, taking over for Karl Eikenberry, whose term is expiring.

All four positions will require confirmation from the U.S. Senate.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Armed Services Committee, immediately expressed support for the appointments.

If confirmed, the new appointees will all likely deal with the beginning of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. A White House official says the shakeup will not delay the pullout, which is still set to begin in July, as President Obama said earlier this year.

"Afghanistan is a tougher situation. But what I have said is that, starting in July of this year, we are going to begin to phase down our troop levels, and we have agreed with our allies that by 2014, this is going to be an Afghan effort," he said.

The senior official said the administration hopes Panetta can be confirmed and in his new office in the Pentagon by July first, with Petraeus leading the CIA by early September.

The senior official said departing the CIA was a difficult decision for Panetta. He said the former congressman and White House chief of staff is credited with reinvigorating the spy agency and improving morale there.

General Petraeus had led the U.S. and international forces in the Iraq war. He took his current position last year, replacing General Stanley McChrystal, whom Mr. Obama fired for making negative comments about several administration officials.

Crocker is a 37-year veteran of the U.S. foreign service, who has served as ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon. He replaces Karl Eikenberry, who is said to have a contentious relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

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