U.S. President Barack Obama announced major changes to his national security team Thursday, nominating CIA director Leon Panetta to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Making the announcement at the White House, President Obama said Panetta's patriotism and management skills are exactly what the country needs in its next secretary of defense. He said Panetta has played a "decisive role" in the nation's fight against violent extremism.
Mr. Obama named Army General David Petraeus, now leading military operations in Afghanistan, to succeed Panetta as head of the CIA. The president praised Petraeus as one of the nation's "leading strategic thinkers" and one of the "finest military officers of all time" and noted his "extraordinary knowledge" of the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Mr. Obama tapped the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine Corps Lieutenant General John Allen, to replace Petraeus as Afghanistan commander. He also announced veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker as his choice for the next U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
President Obama called all four officials "leaders of enormous integrity" and said they will help the country meet the urgent challenges it faces.
The new security team will be responsible for overseeing this year's planned withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq, as well as a reduction of troops in Afghanistan beginning in July. President Obama plans to turn over security responsibility in Afghanistan to the Afghan government by 2014.
The proposed changes, which all require Senate confirmation, drew positive reactions in Congress.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat John Kerry, said the choices of Panetta and Petraeus will "provide important continuity of leadership, policy and philosophy." Kerry said he expects "broad approval and swift confirmations."
Gates, who became Defense Secretary in 2006 under President Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, had said he would leave his post this year. Gates headed the CIA in the early 1990s under Mr. Bush's father, George H.W. Bush.
If confirmed as his replacement, Panetta would oversee major Pentagon budget cuts. Gates has already come up with $400 billion in cuts to the defense budget for the next 10 years, and President Obama has called for $400 billion more.
Panetta has extensive budget experience, serving four years as chairman of the House Budget Committee and later, heading the White House Budget Office under President Bill Clinton.
In addition to these changes, President Obama will also have to find a replacement for top U.S. military officer Mike Mullen, who is expected to retire when his term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ends in September.