Panetta confirms 'invaluable' Flournoy leaving Pentagon

Panetta credited Flournoy with “guiding” the U.S. policy for the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, while also leading several sweeping Pentagon strategies, including the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review and an ongoing one to inform budget cuts.

She is the highest-ranking woman in DOD history, and had been on many short lists to replace former Defense Secretary Robert Gates when he left over the summer.

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The Associated Press first reported her plans to step down.

“Michèle has made a strong and lasting positive imprint on this department and on our nation's security,” Panetta said.

Flournoy is leaving for personal reasons, but will stay in the job until February, Panetta said.

“In her discussions with me, Michèle made clear that her decision to leave is motivated by personal and family considerations,” the Pentagon chief said.

“I will personally miss her valued counsel, but I understand the stresses and strains that holding senior administration positions can have on families,” Panetta said. “I'm confident that she will have many years of service in her future.