Pentagon’s top policymaker Kahl plans to resign, officials say

Pentagon’s top policymaker Kahl plans to resign, officials say

The Defense Department’s top policymaker plans to resign, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the decision. 

Colin Kahl, who has been undersecretary of defense for policy since April 28, 2021, is likely to leave in the summer, the officials said.

The officials, who asked not to be named, said Kahl plans to return to the private sector, most likely to Stanford University, where he was a professor and fellow before he joined the Biden administration.

Kahl is on a leave of absence from Stanford for two years, said a source familiar with the matter. As that deadline approached in April, he requested an extension through mid-July to support Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and President Joe Biden at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. He will leave after that, the source said.

A Pentagon spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Before his time at Stanford, Kahl was national security adviser to then-Vice President Joe Biden from October 2014 until January 2017. During the Obama administration, he was also a policy official at the Pentagon.

Kahl has not ruled out returning to serve in a second Biden administration, the three U.S. officials familiar with the decision said. 

Two years ago Kahl faced a tough confirmation battle to become the No. 3 civilian at the Pentagon, in part because of his critical comments about Republicans on social media when he worked in the private sector. Republicans also criticized his involvement in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran known as the JCPOA and his other policy views about the Middle East. 

Kahl apologized for his comments on social media, and the final vote to confirm him was 49-45. He did not get a single Republican vote.

Sasha Baker, the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, could move up to the head policy job, at least in an acting capacity, the officials said.

Mara Karlin, the assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities since August 2021, could be nominated to replace Kahl. She advises senior Pentagon leaders on defense strategy, national security and emerging capabilities. Karlin played a critical role in crafting the current National Defense Strategy. 

But nominees for top Pentagon positions continue to be held up by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., over the Pentagon’s abortion policy. There are now 234 nominations stuck in the confirmation process, including two civilian nominees, Nickolas Guertin to be assistant secretary of the Navy and Ronald Keohane to be assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs.

Courtney Kube

Courtney Kube is a correspondent covering national security and the military for the NBC News Investigative Unit.

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