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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Will Step Down

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (Susan Walsh/AP)

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the highest profile Republican on President Obama's cabinet, will step down, a defense official tells NPR's Tom Bowman.

The White House says President Obama will make a "personnel announcement" at 11:10 a.m. ET.

Hagel, a two-term Republican Senator, came to this post in February of 2013, the first enlisted combat veteran to lead the Department of Defense.

The New York Times, which first reported the story, says Obama made the decision on Friday after several meetings. The Times adds:

"The officials described Mr. Obama's decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.

"But now 'the next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus,' one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He insisted that Mr. Hagel was not fired, saying that he initiated discussions about his future two weeks ago with the president, and that the two men mutually agreed that it was time for him to leave."

The news comes just as American troops are completing their combat role in Afghanistan and just as the administration announced a new war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Back in October, there were reports from CNN and the New York Times that described a memo written by Hagel in which he criticized the Obama administration's policy toward Syria.

Citing an unnamed senior U.S. official, CNN reported that Hagel told National Security Advisor Susan Rice that "we need to have a sharper view of what to do about the Assad regime."

Publicly, Hagel seemed in lock-step with the Obama administration. During congressional testimony earlier this month, Hagel said the administration's strategy against the Islamic State was making progress.

But he was sober about the mission to equip and train Syrian rebels.

"We know the opposition will continue to face intense pressure in a multi-front battle space, and we are considering options for how U.S. and coalition forces can further support these forces once they are trained and equipped," Hagel said. "Our strategy in Syria will demand time, patience, and perseverance to deliver results. We cannot accomplish our objectives in Syria all at once."

Categories: Government