US President Barack Obama is expected to announce changes in his national security team this week, including a new ambassador to Afghanistan, according to administration officials.
The officials, who provided information on the condition of anonymity, said as many as four high-level appointments could be announced as soon as Thursday, a changing of the guard that would probably involve the naming of a replacement for defence secretary Robert Gates. They said that Ryan Crocker, a five-time ambassador who retired in 2009, is likely to be named to take over the US Embassy in Kabul.
According to Pentagon sources and others, the leading candidate to replace Gates is still CIA Director Leon Panetta.
Gen David H Petraeus, who in Afghanistan has continued the close collaboration with the CIA that he began in Iraq, emerged last month as a contender for the CIA director's job.
The changes come at a crucial moment for Obama's foreign policy: amid turmoil in North Africa and West Asia, a US troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year and what the administration has described as a make-or-break summer in Afghanistan.
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