USA

President-Elect Biden To Pick Retired Four-Star US Army General As Defense Secretary

Lloyd J Austin is poised to become the first black leader of the Pentagon.

President-elect Joe Biden is poised to nominate retired four-star US Army general Lloyd J Austin to be the United States' Secretary of Defense, making him the first black leader of the Pentagon.

Sources say Mr Biden has selected 67-year-old Gen Austin over long-time front-running candidate Michele Flournoy, a former senior Pentagon official and Biden supporter who would have been the first woman to serve in the role.

It is understood Mr Biden offered Gen Austin the post on Sunday and he has accepted.

As a career American military officer who has served for 41 years, he is likely to face opposition from some in Congress and in the defence establishment who believe in drawing a clear line between civilian and military leadership of the Pentagon.

Gen Austin retired from the US Army in 2016, so will need a congressional waiver of the legal requirement that a former member of the military be out of uniform at least seven years before serving as secretary of defence.

That waiver has been granted only twice — most recently in the case of General James Mattis, the retired marines general who served as Donald Trump’s first Pentagon chief.

Gen Austin has a reputation for strong leadership, integrity and a sharp intellect. 

He led US and coalition troops in Iraq while Mr Biden was vice president.

Gen Lloyd J Austin wishes troops in Iraq a happy Thanksgiving in 2010 (Picture: US Department of Defense).

In 2008, Gen Austin was commander in Baghdad of the Multinational Corps-Iraq and returned to lead US troops from 2010 through 2011.

He earned the admiration of the Obama administration for his work in Iraq and at Central Command, although he disagreed with President Obama’s decision to pull out of Iraq entirely in December 2011.

Gen Austin also served in 2012 as the first black vice chief of staff of the US army, the service’s No 2-ranking position.

A year later he assumed command of US Central Command, implementing the US military strategy for rolling back the so-called Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

When Gen Austin retired in 2016, Mr Obama praised his "character and competence", as well as his judgment and leadership.

Mr Biden is reported to have been drawn to Gen Austin because of his oversight of the Iraq pull-out.

His appointment comes at an important time for the US military, which will imminently begin supporting the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine.

Gen Lloyd J Austin greets President Barack Obama at MacDill Air Force Base in 2014 (Picture: US Department of Defense).

Civil rights leaders have supported the president-elect's decision to pick more black cabinet members.

The Reverend Al Sharpton said: "It’s the first time we have seen a person of colour in that position.

"That means something, in a global view, especially after such an antagonistic relationship we had with the previous administration."

Cover image: Gen Lloyd J Austin (US Department of Defense).