WASHINGTON | Former General Lloyd Austin, whose appointment as US defense minister was confirmed on Friday, has become the first African-American to lead the Pentagon.
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New US President Joe Biden thanked the Senate for this quick confirmation. “There is no doubt that he is the right person to lead the Defense Ministry at this time,” he tweeted.
Mr Austin, 67, is the second member of Joe Biden’s government to receive the green light from elected officials, after Director of Intelligence Avril Haines.
“It is an honor and a privilege to become the 28th Minister of Defense of our country, and I am especially proud to be the first African American to hold this position,” tweeted the new minister. “Now to work”.
The former general immediately went to the Pentagon, for talks with the chief of staff, General Mark Milley, and various civilian and military officials of the Pentagon, the ministry said.
His first phone call will be to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the afternoon.
The appointment of the former Army General, who notably fought in Iraq and Afghanistan before becoming the first colored man to lead the United States Army Central Command (Centcom), was approved at Senate by 93 votes to 2.
The day before, the two chambers of Congress had granted a dispensation to the general retired since 2016, under a regulation stipulating that a former soldier must be retired for more than 7 years to become Minister of Defense.
Since the adoption in 1947 of this rule intended to ensure close civilian control over the military, only two exemptions have been approved: the first in 1950 for George Marshall, who had just implemented his eponymous plan to rebuild Europe. , and the second for Jim Mattis in 2016.
The pandemic in the sights
Mr. Austin pledged to fight extremism in the US military, after the military in plain clothes took part in the assault on Capitol Hill by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
“I will do everything to rid our ranks of racists and extremists”, he assured Tuesday before the Committee of the Armed Forces of the Senate, while 12 soldiers of the US National Guard had been removed from the security device of the ceremony investiture of Joe Biden as part of a procedure to search for possible links with extremist groups.
But he also pledged to make the pandemic his priority, and his first meeting with military officials was to focus on the response to COVID-19, the Pentagon said.
The pandemic “has killed over 400,000 Americans. These are simply disproportionate losses, ”he noted, believing that the Pentagon could do more to fight the disease.
Mr. Austin told elected officials that he intended to reconsider the military withdrawals from Germany and Somalia wanted by Donald Trump, but he supported the withdrawal from Afghanistan. “I would like to see this conflict end with a negotiated agreement,” he said, deeming it preferable “to focus on counterterrorism operations in the future”.
Coming from the prestigious West Point military academy, General Austin had retrained in the defense industry, like many of his predecessors. He was notably on the board of directors of Raytheon Technologies and he promised to withdraw from any decision implicating his former employer.