Lloyd Austin is a retired four-star army general
President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Lloyd Austin, who led US troops into Baghdad in 2003 and rose to head the US Central Command, as the first African-American secretary of defense, US media reported Monday.
A veteran of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the retired four-star army general, 67, beat out the favorite for the job, former under-secretary of defense Michele Flournoy, amid pressure on Biden to nominate more minorities for positions in his cabinet.
CNN, Politico and The New York Times cited unnamed sources familiar with the decision, after Biden said earlier Monday that he had made his choice and would announce it on Friday.
Austin would require Senate confirmation to take up the post. He would also require a special waiver from the Senate due to federal law that requires military officers to wait seven years after retirement before serving as the Pentagon chief.
The rule is rooted in the view that only a civilian should serve as defense secretary.
The waiver has happened twice — most recently for General Jim Mattis in 2017, President Donald Trump’s first defense secretary.
But members of the Senate agreed begrudgingly, and several said at the time that they wouldn’t want to do it again.
Austin spent four decades in the army, graduating from West Point Military Academy and following a career with a wide range of assignments, from leading platoons to running logistics groups and overseeing recruiting, to senior Pentagon jobs.
In March 2003, he was the assistant division commander of the 3rd Infantry Division when it marched from Kuwait into Baghdad in the US invasion of Iraq.
From late 2003 to 2005, he was in Afghanistan commanding the Combined Joint Task Force 180, the principle US-led operation seeking to stabilize the security situation in the country.
In 2010, he was made commanding general of US forces in Iraq, and two years later became the commander of the Central Command, in charge of all Pentagon operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
That put him in charge of the fight against the Islamic State as it captured large swathes of Iraq and Syria.
During that period, he reportedly earned the trust of Biden, who was vice president at the time.