Chuck Hagel, the US secretary of defence, is resigning after President Barack Obama lost faith in his ability to lead the Pentagon during America’s struggle with the Islamic State.
Mr Obama will announce the surprise resignation from the White House at 11.10am EST (4.10pm GMT), after the news was first reported in the New York Times. He is expected to remain in his post until a successor is confirmed.
The 68-year-old Mr Hagel is a combat veteran of the Vietnam war and was a Republican senator before Mr Obama asked him to join his cabinet less than two years ago to help cut defence spending and wind down the war in Afghanistan.
Instead, Mr Hagel’s tenure has been beset by international crises from the advance of jihadists in Iraq and Syria to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and ongoing interference in Ukraine.
US officials told the New York Times that Mr Obama made the decision to ask his defence chief to step down last Friday but had been mulling the issue for weeks.
China accuses US defence chief Chuck Hagel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of ‘provocative’ speeches 01 Jun 2014
It is not immediately clear who will replace Mr Hagel as the fourth secretary of defence during Mr Obama’s six years in office, an unusually high rate of turnover. One possibility is Michèle Flournoy, a former senior defence official, who would be the first women to lead the Pentagon.
Both of Mr Obama’s previous defence chiefs – Leon Panetta and Robert Gates – have gone on to criticise the President after they left office.
Mr Hagel was considered a moderate Republican during his time in the Senate and was respected by Democrats after speaking out against George W Bush’s “surge” of US forces into Iraq in 2007.
However, his tenure as secretary of defence was shaky from its first days. During a confirmation hearing in front of his fellow senators, Mr Hagel flubbed several answers, causing nervousness in the White House.
Mr Obama has reportedly grown convinced that Mr Hagel was not up to the task of managing what looks likely to be a years-long struggle against ISIL in the Middle East.
The defence chief also struggled to break through Mr Obama’s closely-knit circle of national security aides at the White House. He was said to be quiet in cabinet meetings and to have few ideas to present to Mr Obama about how to handle the chaos in the Middle East.
Mr Hagel volunteered for the infantry during the Vietnam War and was wounded twice while fighting alongside his brother, Tom. The pair earned five Purple Hearts during their service.
Unlike John Kerry, the US secretary of state, Mr Hagel was never an officer and left the military as a sergeant. His gruff manner earned him the respect of many enlisted troops when he took over at the Pentagon.
But he was a less adept bureaucratic infighter than his predecessor, Leon Panetta. While the gregarious Mr Panetta had several senior roles in the White House during his career, Mr Hagel was often outmaneuvered by others inside the US government.
Mr Hagel was asked last week on the Charlie Rose show if he was concerned that his job might be at risk. He replied: “I don’t get up in the morning and worry about my job. It’s not unusual by the way, to change teams at different times.”
Even as all eyes in Washington were on the White House Rose Garden, where Mr Obama will make his announcement, US fighter jets were still in action over the Middle East. Coalition aircraft carried out nine strikes in Syria and 15 more in Iraq over the weekend, according to US Central Command.