Accessibility links

Breaking News

Obama Asks Gates To Stay On As U.S. Defense Secretary

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
(RFE/RL) -- Reports from the United States say Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been asked by President-elect Barack Obama to continue at his Pentagon post when Obama's administration is sworn into office on January 20.

Obama is not expected to announce his personnel choices for his national security team until next week. But officials from both the Democratic and Republic parties, speaking on condition of anonymity, say Gates accepted the nomination without agreeing to any specific exit date.

Analysts say the appointment of Gates, who has served as President George W. Bush's defense secretary since 2006, will ensure continuity of the leadership of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq at a critical time

Officials familiar with discussions between Gates and the president-elect say Gates would probably remain in Obama's cabinet for about a year.

Gates had no immediate comment about his reported nomination. But speaking earlier this week during a visit to Canada, Gates indicated that providing security for Afghanistan's presidential elections in 2009 will be a top priority for U.S. military planners in the months ahead.

For that reason, Gates says, it is imperative that the United States and its NATO allies send at least four additional brigade combat teams to Afghanistan next year with the first scheduled to be deployed in January.

"I think the elections are scheduled for early fall at this point, maybe September, but first of all, I think we all recognize the need for the Afghan government with our help to demonstrate some progress in the course of 2009," Gates said. "We would like to be able to get some of those additional brigade combat teams into Afghanistan before the elections so that they can make a contribution to greater security. But we are still working on that and we have not made any final decisions about the timing of the brigades flowing after the brigade goes in January."

Jones To Head National Security Council

Meanwhile, reports are emerging about other critical posts on Obama's national security team.

A Democratic Party official, on the request of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Obama wants retired Marine General James Jones to head the National Security Council.

The 64-year-old Jones has been a respectful critic of some of the Bush administration's war strategy -- particularly in Afghanistan. Political analysts say Jones's priorities and world view also appear to be in line with Obama's.

But Jones also has served as NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe and was named last year to head an energy initiative for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And he has served as a special Middle East peace adviser for the Bush administration.

Thus, some analysts are describing the reported nominations of Jones and Gates as a way for Obama's administration to preserve continuity and experience in the war on terrorism while also reaching beyond partisan divisions in Washington.

Others say it indicates that Obama's administration could be more hawkish than anticipated by political pundits during the U.S. presidential election campaign.

Earlier, Democratic officials said Obama had offered the post of secretary of state to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton has confirmed that she has discussed the post with Obama, but she says it is too early to confirm that she has been nominated.