Mark Esper, the outgoing defence secretary (left) and Christopher Miller, his replacement
Mark Esper, the outgoing defence secretary (left) and Christopher Miller, his replacement

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said on Monday that he had “terminated” Defence Secretary Mark Esper, appearing to use his final months in office after his election defeat to settle scores within his administration.

Trump split with Esper over a range of issues and was particularly angered by his public opposition to Trump’s threats to use active duty military forces this summer to suppress street protests over racial injustice after police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Trump said on Twitter that Christopher Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, was taking over as acting secretary of defence. The Senate would be highly unlikely to confirm a new nominee before Trump leaves office in January.

“Mark Esper has been terminated,” Trump said in a tweet, adding that Miller would be acting secretary “effective immediately”.

A US defense official said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows called Esper to alert him that Trump would be firing him through Twitter.

Sources said Esper had long been preparing for his resignation or dismissal following last week’s election, particularly if Trump were to win a second term in office. Representative Adam Smith, the Democrat who leads the House Armed Services Committee, condemned Trump’s decision as “childish” and reckless.

“Dismissing politically appointed national security leaders during a transition is a destabilising move that will only embolden our adversaries and put our country at greater risk,” Smith said.

As Trump put into motion a quick, unceremonious exit for Esper, Miller arrived at the Pentagon building just an hour or so after Trump’s announcement —before the Pentagon itself had even issued a statement acknowledging Esper’s dismissal.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2020

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