US President Donald Trump said on Monday that he had "terminated" Defense Secretary Mark Esper, appearing to use his final months in office after his election defeat to settle scores within his administration.
Trump had split with Esper over a range of issues and was particularly angered by Esper's 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, on Twitter, said Christopher Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, will become acting secretary of defense. The Senate would be highly unlikely to confirm any new nominee before Trump leaves office in January.
"Mark Esper has been terminated," Trump said on Twitter, adding that Miller would be acting secretary "effective immediately."
I am pleased to announce that Christopher C. Miller, the highly respected Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (unanimously confirmed by the Senate), will be Acting Secretary of Defense, effective immediately..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2020
The Pentagon had no immediate comment.
Sources said Esper had long been preparing for the prospect of his resignation or dismissal following last week's election, particularly if Trump were to win a second term in office.
Trump has steadfastly refused to acknowledge his election loss.
Trump has had an uneasy relationship with the Pentagon, where Esper and top brass have repeatedly sought to avoid being seen as a political instrument of the Trump administration.
Esper's predecessor, Jim Mattis, quit in 2018 over policy differences with Trump, including on Syria. Mattis in June criticized Trump as the "first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people - does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us."
Like Mattis, Esper also disagreed with Trump's dismissive attitude toward the NATO alliance and was wary of Trump's inclination to see US military alliances through an explicitly transactional lens even as he backed Trump's calls for allies to increase defense spending, sources said.