Washington- US President-elect Joe Biden has announced retired Army general Lloyd J Austin as his nomination for Defence Secretary.
If confirmed by the Senate, 67-year-old Austin would be the first African-American to lead the Pentagon. The nominee for the 28th Secretary of Defence comes with a distinguished record of military service spanning four decades.
General Austin shares my profound belief that our nation is at its strongest when we lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. Throughout his lifetime of dedicated service and in the many hours we’ve spent together in the White House Situation Room and with our troops overseas General Austin has demonstrated exemplary leadership, character and command, Biden said while making the announcement on Tuesday.
He is uniquely qualified to take on the challenges and crises we face in the current moment, and I look forward to once again working closely with him as a trusted partner to lead our military with dignity and resolve, revitalise our alliances in the face of global threats, and ensure the safety and security of the American people, the Democratic leader said.
An accomplished, respected and trailblazing figure in the US military history, Austin retired from the Army in 2016 after over 40 years of service.
The first African-American to serve as Commander of US Central Command, Austin is a trusted and crisis-tested leader who has overseen some of the most complex and impactful operations in the history of the armed services including serving as the chief architect of the effort to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and working closely with Biden to bring nearly 150,000 American military personnel home from Iraq, the transition said.
If confirmed, Austin will be tasked with implementing the military and defence priorities of the president-elect, including keeping the nation safe and secure, playing a key role in executing the logistics associated with COVID-19 vaccine distribution; restoring America’s alliances; supporting and equipping service members and caring for them and their families; addressing the accelerating security threat posed by the climate crisis; and modernising the armed forces and preparing for the conflicts of the future, it said.
Describing him as a “seasoned, highly decorated and trailblazing commander”, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said Austin will modernise the armed forces and make sure the US is prepared to overcome the new threats and new challenges of the future.
Harris said she and Biden will work closely with him and the entire national security and foreign policy team to keep “the American people safe, support our troops and their families, and rebuild and renew global partnerships and alliances”.
At the Pentagon, General Austin has served as Chief of the Joint Operations and as Director of the Joint Staff. In 2010, he ascended to the Army’s top rank of four-star general, becoming the sixth African-American to do so.
Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Austin is a strong leader, a kind man of decency, principle and integrity, who is highly respected by those who have served with him.
I am also proud to call him a friend. This country will benefit yet again from his service, she said.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she has known Austin for 15 years, and worked closely with him.
“He will make history, and serve this country well, she said.
According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Austin brings a great understanding of the challenges facing the nation’s defence and “a deep appreciation for the sacrifice of our military heroes and their families”.
Michele Flournoy, former defence undersecretary, said Austin is a man of deep integrity who has spent a lifetime in service to the country.
Austin would now be the second Defence Secretary after James Mattis in four years to require Congressional waiver to head the Pentagon. Mattis, a retired US Marine Corps general, served as the defence secretary from January 2017 through January 2019.
As per rules, a former member of the military should be out of uniform at least seven years before serving as defence secretary. The laws were meant to preserve the civilian nature of the Department of Defence.
I don’t see how you can give Mattis a waiver a few years ago and then, when one of the most qualified African-American generals comes before Congress, to deny him one. That seems hypocritical. So given Mattis had that exception, we can do it one more time,” Congressman Ro Khanna said.
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