President Obama will nominate current CIA director Leon Panetta to replace exiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates later this week, sources within the administration told the Associated Press. Those sources also claim, as predicted, that General David Petraeus will leave his post leading the war in Afghanistan to take Panetta’s empty spot as CIA chief. This far-reaching regime change takes place as the war in Afghanistan enters its tenth year and the U.S. plans to withdraw some of its roughly 100,000 troops in July. Although the shuffle at the top of Obama’s national security advisers isn’t expected to take place until this summer, this gives the White House time to schedule Senate confirmation hearings before Gates’s planned departure this year.
Although officials say it’s unrelated to progress in Afghanistan, Obama expects to make two other personnel changes in order to demonstrate enough success to make good on his pledge to begin withdrawing troops. Lieutenant General John Allen will replace Petraeus as commander in Afghanistan, and diplomat Ryan Crocker, who served as ambassador to Iraq during the Bush administration, is expected to be named the new ambassador to Afghanistan.
Panetta was said to be chosen because of his experience working in Washington and managing budgets and time in the field. Petraeus claims his military advances in Taliban strongholds in the south have blunted the insurgency, although his reputation as “King David” was said to have spoiled his chances to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Obama better hope he chose wisely as both military and civilian defense leaders have called 2011 the make-or-break year for turning around the war and starting the gradual path to exit by 2015.