Biden to tap Lloyd Austin as defence secretary

New York: United States President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate General (retd) Lloyd Austin to be defence secretary.

According to American media reports, Gen Austin, 67, would be the first African-American to lead the Pentagon.

A formidable figure at the Pentagon, Gen Austin also headed the US Central Command, the military’s combat command, with responsibility for Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria most of the places where the United States is at war.

As chief of the U.S. Central Command from 2013-16, Gen. Austin made visits to Pakistan where he interacted with Army’s leadership.

Biden has been under pressure to nominate an African-American defense secretary, with Black leaders arguing he was falling short on diversity in his Cabinet as top positions filled up. Two other of the so-called Big Four Cabinet heads Biden has chosen are white, Antony Blinken as Secretary of State and Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary.

With the Defence Secretary chosen, only the Attorney General Cabinet position remains open among the Big Four.

Biden offered Gen. Austin the job Sunday, and he accepted the same day, according to the reports.

Austin declined to comment through a spokesperson, and spokesperson for the Biden transition team also declined to comment.

Biden and Austin got to know each other during the Obama administration’s Iraq drawdown, when the former vice president led Iraq policy and Austin served as the last commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq. In that position, Austin played a key role in the surge of forces that began in 2007 and was in charge of the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in 2011.

Austin’s nomination may run into trouble on Capitol Hill. Austin has not been out of the military for the required seven years and would need a waiver from Congress to become Secretary of Defence — and lawmakers have signaled their wariness of granting yet another exception for a retired general to lead the Pentagon just four years after President Donald Trump sought one for his first defence secretary, Jim Mattis.