Panetta tapped for top Pentagon job, Petraeus to lead the CIA

A shuffle is coming among President Obama’s top national security advisers, with new leaders being nominated for the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.

CIA Director Leon Panetta will be nominated to head the Defense Department, and Gen. David Petraeus is the pick to replace him at the intelligence agency, the White House said Wednesday.

{mosads}Ryan Crocker, the former Ambassador to Iraq, will be nominated as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Lt. Gen. John Allen, now deputy Central Command commander, will be tapped as successor to Petraeus in Afghanistan.

The president feels this will give him “strongest possible team,” a senior White House official said on a conference call with reporters, and he believes it will provide for “seamless transition.” 

The president will make an announcement Thursday about the positions. The nominations require Senate confirmation.

“These announcements tomorrow are the culmination of a multimonth process of consideration” by the president and others, the official said. 

Panetta would succeed Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said last summer that he would step down before 2012.

Panetta took the reigns at the CIA in February 2009. He served as chief of staff to former President Clinton from 1994 to 1997 and was director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Petraeus currently serves as the commander of allied forces in Afghanistan and heads up U.S. Central Command. He was the lead officer implementing the “surge” strategy in Iraq under former President George W. Bush.

Petraeus also oversaw the development of the Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

“I think, obviously, Gen. Petraeus is … a well-respected leader for us. So that’s a real confidence-builder,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said on CNBC in reaction to the picks.

Cantor said he thought Panetta would do “an equally good job” at the Department of Defense. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.), typically a critic of the president’s national security team, praised the moves.

“I strongly support the President’s planned nominations. Director Panetta has done an outstanding job at the CIA, and General Petraeus has distinguished himself as one of the great American military leaders,” King said in a statement. “Both men currently play integral roles in our Nation’s war against al Qaeda and its affiliates and will be instrumental as we continue to combat the terrorist threat.”

Crocker would replace Karl Eikenberry, who has served as ambassador to Kabul for two years.

News of the shake-up comes two days after Obama convened a monthly meeting of his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Panetta, Petraeus and Eikenberry all participated in that meeting.

—Michael O’Brien and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

This post was originally posted at 7:30 a.m. and was updated at 4:00 p.m.

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