US defence secretary Chuck Hagel resigned Monday under pressure from the White House, with news reports suggesting further changes in the president’s national security team.
The decision was taken on Friday, the day India and US announced President Barack Obama’s coming visit for the Republic Day parade, after weeks of meetings.
Former defense officials Michele Flournoy and Ashton Carter, who headed a task force on military sales to India, are reportedly among top contenders to succeed Hagel.
Hagel, a Republican, never exactly recovered from a bruising confirmation hearing at which his own party senators attacked him viciously, even questioning his personal integrity.
Obama announced Hagel’s resignation at the White House flanked by the outgoing defence secretary and Vice-President Joe Biden. He said it was an appropriate time for a leadership change at the Pentagon with Hagel having steered the military through a “significant period of transition”.
But no specific reasons were given for Hagel’s departure. President Obama’s military strategy in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the fight against Islamic State (IS) have come under attack from critics from both sides of the political spectrum in recent months.
Local news reports suggested the president could be considering other changes in his national security team to deal better with global crises confronting the US.
The New York Times said, citing officials, Hagel’s removal signaled the recognition of the need for a completely different strategy to fight IS. The defence secretary had struggled to convey a clear vision and had seemed to be “passive”.
Conservative leaning The Wall Street Journal, however, suggested Hagel had clashed this year with the White House over Ukraine and Syria. He found the pace of military decision making slow, which he believed, left enemies and allies unclear about the US.
Republican senator John McCain, whois slated to take over the powerful Senate Armed Services committee, said Hagel “was frustrated with aspects of the Administration’s national security policy and decision-making process”.