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Entries in Replacements (1)

Friday
Apr082011

Sec. of Defense Robert Gates Planning to Step Down; Replacements Unknown

Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates upon Gates' arrival in Kabul, Afghanistan last month. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- There will be a new top leadership team at the Pentagon later this year when Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen step down from their posts. Gates has said on multiple occasions that he intends to retire from his post later this year, though he has never said exactly when he would do so.

Just Thursday in Baghdad, he told a group of American soldiers that he was likely on his last trip to Iraq as Secretary of Defense. Having made quarterly visits to Iraq in recent years, he lent some credence to speculation that he could step down this summer following the start of the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan scheduled for July.

Mullen's second two-year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs will run out on Oct. 1. Mullen's successor would likely have to be named by the White House in early summer to allow enough time for the Senate confirmation process.

Leon Panetta's name surfaced in recent weeks as a potential Gates successor, but Washington was abuzz this week with the possibility that Gen. David Petraeus could replace Panetta if he does head to the Pentagon.

A U.S. official tells ABC News there are White House discussions about having Petraeus take over at the CIA. But that possibility would only be contingent on an opening at the CIA if Panetta were to move on.

But CIA spokesman George Little says about the Panetta talk, "He isn't seeking any other job and hasn't been asked by the President to take on a different role." He added, "Director Panetta is proud to lead the men and women of the CIA and is focused squarely on the agency's mission."

While Panetta has garnered all the recent attention, others seen as potential contenders to succeed Gates are Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Defense Under Secretary for Policy Michele Flournoy and former Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ended speculation she was in the running when she told reporters last month that she intended to remain at her post and then leave the administration after the 2012 election.

Conventional wisdom has Gen. James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the leading candidate to succeed Mullen, who will have served four years as the President's top military advisor. His profile became higher after Bob Woodward, in his book Obama's Wars, labeled him as "Obama's favorite general."

But Gen. Petraeus has also been discussed as a potential successor to Mullen since it was first reported that he is scheduled to step down later this year as the top commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. It's unclear when Petraeus would leave his post, but a Defense official says he has "pledged to see this through another fighting season if that was necessary."

But with few four-star openings available to Petraeus if he remains in the military, the possibility that he could take over at the CIA seemed an intriguing choice to many in Washington.

A Defense official says such talk is just "premature."

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