By Arul Louis
New York, Jan 22 (IANS) The United States Senate on Friday confirmed a former Army general, Austin Lloyd to become the Defence Secretary, making him the first African American to hold the job.
He received the overwhelming support of both parties, overcoming reservations about a retired general becoming the Defence Secretary within the legally required seven-year gap between retirement and appointment.
The Senate voted 93 to two to confirm him after Congress had voted on Thursday to exempt the general who retired in 2016 from the legal seven-year requirement.
Democrat Party’s Senate Leader Chuck Schumer told the Senate that Austin “must once again demonstrate to the world that the US military will always support our friends, deter our adversaries and, if necessary, defeat them”.
Jim Inhofe, the Republican leader of the Senate Armed Service Committee, said: “I can’t think of a better person to take the helm than General Austin.”
Austin will be taking over the Pentagon at a time when the US is facing a fast-changing global situation with the main theatre of contention shifting to the Indo-Pacific region where China is the emerging threat to the world order.
In his 41-year military career Austin does not have direct experience in that region, while he has overseen military operations as the head of the US military’s Central Command in the Middle East and a part of South Asia where the US involvement is winding down.
He has first-hand experience in Afghanistan as the commander of a joint task force of the US and its allies during 2003-05, which required him to interact with Pakistani generals.
In written testimony during the confirmation hearings by the Senate Armed Forces Committee earlier this week, he said that he will press Pakistan to stop giving sanctuary to terrorists.
He also said that Pakistan’s actions against anti-Indian terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) were “incomplete”, although there was some progress.
Austin gave an indication of continuity in Washington’s defence approach to India that was further enhanced during Donald Trump’s term as president.
“If confirmed, my overarching objective for our defense relationship with India would be to continue elevating the partnership,” he said.
Austin said that he would continue to build on the “strong defence cooperation” with India and ensure that the militaries of the two countries can collaborate.
Referring to the Indo-Pacific informal four-member group of the US, India, Japan and Australia, he said: “I would also seek to deepen and broaden our defense cooperation through the Quad security dialogue and other regional multilateral engagements.”
(Arul Louis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)
By Arul Louis