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Biden taps ex-Obama officials for top Pentagon roles

President-elect nominates Kathleen Hicks and Colin Kahl to second- and third-highest civilian positions in Department of Defense
Kathleen Hicks will serve as the Deputy Secretary of Defence and Colin Kahl will serve as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Joe Biden announced.
Biden says Hicks will serve as deputy secretary of defence and Kahl as under secretary of defense for policy (AFP)
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US President-elect Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that he was nominating Kathleen Hicks and Colin Kahl, two former officials in the Obama administration, to key positions in the Pentagon.

Hicks will serve as the deputy secretary of defense, while Kahl will serve as under secretary of defense for policy, Biden said.

"Dr Kath Hicks and Dr Colin Kahl have the broad experience and crisis-tested judgment necessary to help tackle the litany of challenges we face today, and all those we may confront tomorrow," Biden said in a statement.

The nomination, if confirmed by the Senate as required, will make Hicks the first woman to serve in the No 2 Pentagon role. Since November, she has led the Pentagon agency review team for the Biden transition effort.

Kahl previously served as Biden's national security adviser while he was vice president, and after joining the president-elect's campaign became the go-to person for the campaign on issues related to Iran.

Kahl has spoken out against the Trump administration's arms sales to Gulf Arab countries, particularly the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

He and his family were targeted by a private Israeli security firm in 2017 as part of an effort to gather compromising information on US officials who negotiated the Iran nuclear deal in order to discredit the pact.

The company, Black Cube, also targeted Obama's former national security adviser, Ben Rhodes.

It is not clear who hired the Israeli firm for the operation, but in a series of tweets in 2018, Kahl suggested that Trump and his aides may have been involved in the scheme.

Earlier this month, Biden tapped recently retired four-star general Lloyd Austin to head the Pentagon.

Austin, who will need a waiver from Congress to take on the role, addressed the two as "civilian voices serving alongside military leaders," in a statement released by the transition.

Ties to arms industry

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have touted their administration as boasting an unprecedented level of diversity, giving top positions to individuals from minority backgrounds.

Still, they have faced criticism from members of their party's progressive wing, with concerns raised over the incoming administration's ties to the weapons industry as well as not meeting key progressive demands.

Hicks's most recent employer was listed as the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies (CSIS), a think-tank that received financial contributions in 2020 from several arms manufacturers, including Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

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Austin, Biden's pick to head the Pentagon, currently sits on the board of directors for Raytheon, a weapons manufacturer that may receive a licence to sell thousands of precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia in a deal worth $467m.

Senator Bernie Sanders accused Biden earlier this month of not doing enough to raise the voices of progressives and the issues for which they are advocating, including universal health care, cuts to the military budget, and free public college education.

A coalition of left-leaning and progressive groups have also submitted to Biden a 100-person roster of candidates they deemed suitable for senior positions in his administration.

Released in tandem with the roster was a petition, with 200,000 signatories, calling on the Senate to stop confirming any more corporate lobbyists to positions in the executive branch of government.