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PENTAGON: A top White House counterterrorism official has moved to the Pentagon to help run counterterrorism operations, an appointment that fills one of two critical special operations and counterterrorism offices that have been without full-time officeholders for months.
The arrival of Christopher Miller as the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and combatting terrorism comes as the US braces for a covert Iranian response to the killing of Iranian Gen. Iran’s Qassem Soleimani, and with continued high-tempo operations in Afghanistan and parts of Africa continuing with no end in sight.
Miller served as the National Security Council’s senior director for counterterrorism until last month, where he helped oversee multiple special ops-led missions including hostage rescues and October’s raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in October.
“His background brings extensive experience that will advance DOD’s efforts in addressing global security challenges,” a Pentagon spokesperson said. “He’s served in uniform with the Army’s Special Forces and as the Special Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism, where he took part in several high-level operations.”
Miller’s office was vacated in September by Andrew Knaggs, a former Green Beret who left the Pentagon to run as a Republican challenger to freshman House Democrat Abigail Spanberger in a suburban Richmond, Va. district.
His arrival will provide some stability in a counterterrorism office that has been a revolving door since June, when ASD SO/LIC Owen West resigned.
A political appointee, West was confirmed by the Senate in 2017 and was replaced by Mark Mitchell on a temporary basis. Then Mitchell himself abruptly resigned in October, despite being considered a prime candidate for the job who would likely roll through the confirmation process.
Mitchell occupies a storied place in special operations history, having been one of the first service members to deploy to Afghanistan in 2001. He received the first Distinguished Service Cross during the post 9/11 wars for his service fighting during the Battle of Qala-I Jangi in November 2001. He would later serve in the Obama administration on the National Security Council before moving to the Pentagon under Trump, from whence he headed back to the NSC.
Mitchell was replaced at SO/LIC in October by Thomas Alexander — who also leads the Pentagon’s counternarcotics efforts. He continues to hold both positions.
A former SO/LIC and NSC official, Luke Hartig, wrote recently that the office needs a Senate-approved official at the helm to push operations and plans forward, as to act as a “critical voice in vetting the proposed mission and advising the Secretary of Defense and the White House on its risks and rewards.” The job entails providing “a check on those within the military who might be overly focused on the operational upside and largely neglect the broader foreign policy fallout and risks.”
Only the Shriver and West jobs require Senate confirmation.
The vacancies and offices filled by acting officials fits with a larger pattern at DoD of an increasing number of offices operating without confirmed officials for months at a time. The problem grew worse in December, when Ambassador Tina Kaidanow, senior adviser for international cooperation, left the Pentagon, along with Randall Schriver, the top Asia policy official. Three other officials announced they would leave in January: Steven Walker, head of DARPA, Kari Bingen, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and Eric Chewning, chief of staff to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.