Chuck Hagel resigns as Secretary of Defense

Senator Charles T. Hagel answering a question at the Secretary of Defense confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Service Committee at the Dirksen Senate Building in Washington D.C., Jan. 31, 2013. Hagel is the 24th Secretary of Defense. DoD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo (Released)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is stepping down as administration of President Barack Obama prepares to take on daunting security challenges in the final two years of the president’s term, a senior defense official confirmed early Monday.

Hagel submitted his letter of resignation to Obama on Monday, and an announcement is expected in a ceremony at the White House later in the day.

“This was a mutual decision when looking ahead to the last two years of the Obama administration,” a senior defense official said on the condition of anonymity.

Hagel will remain in office until a successor is appointed, the official said. No nominee to take his place has been named.

Hagel’s resignation under pressure was first reported by The New York Times.

Hagel is the first cabinet-level casualty of the collapse of President Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and a beleaguered national security team that has struggled to stay ahead of an onslaught of global crises.

The decisions was made after a series of meetings over the past two weeks, senior administration officials told the Times.

The officials described Obama’s decision to remove Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Hagel was brought on to employ.

“The next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus,” one administration official told the Times, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He insisted that 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.

Hagel’s aides had maintained in recent weeks that he expected to serve the full four years as defense secretary, the Times noted. His removal appears to be an effort by the White House to show that it is sensitive to critics who have pointed to stumbles in the government’s early response to several national security issues, including the Ebola crisis and the threat posed by the Islamic State.

(Stars and Stripes)

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