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Senate confirms Mattis as secretary of defense

The U.S. Senate on Friday confirmed retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to serve as the next secretary of defense.


A majority of the upper chamber voted in favor of Mattis taking over the top civilian job at the Pentagon.

The move came after President Donald Trump, in one of his first acts as the new commander in chief, signed a waiver passed by Congress to permit Mattis to serve in the role.

Related: 6 new changes to expect at the Pentagon with Mattis as SECDEF

After taking the oath of office, Trump remained at the Capitol to sign a number of documents officially nominating his choices for cabinet and ambassador posts and to declare Jan. 20 a "National Day of Patriotism."

Among the documents was the historic waiver for the 66-year-old Mattis, who led the 2003 invasion of Iraq as commander of the 1st Marine Division, commanded a task force in Afghanistan in 2001, and commanded a battalion in the Persian Gulf war in 1990.

In 1947, Congress passed a law barring members of the military from taking the Defense Secretary's post until seven years after retirement to preserve civilian control of the military. Mattis retired in 2013.

The only previous exception to the law was the waiver granted to Gen. George C. Marshall, the five-star Army chief of staff in World War II, who became Defense Secretary in 1950.

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander, U.S. Central Command visits with Marines stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait on Feb. 26, 2011. | DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

Earlier this week in separate action, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 26-1 to approve Mattis for a confirmation vote by the full Senate. The only "No" vote in the Committee was from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, who praised Mattis but said she was voting against him on the issue of civilian control.

The full Senate was expected to confirm Mattis, possibly later Friday. If confirmed, Mattis was expected to make his first visit as the 26th Secretary of Defense to the Pentagon to meet with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, who was staying on temporarily at the Pentagon to assist with management issues.

During the campaign, Trump said he would demand a plan from his commanders within 30 days of taking office speed up and ultimately end the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In his inaugural address, Trump said he would "eradicate radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the Earth."

During his Senate confirmation hearings, Mattis also said he would be reviewing plans to "accelerate" the ISIS campaign but gave no details.

Already, there were signs that the U.S. military was moving more aggressively against ISIS and also the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. On Wednesday, in the last combat mission specifically authorized by President Barack Obama, B-2 Spirit stealth bombers flying out of Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri struck ISIS camps in Libya.

On Thursday, a B-52 bomber deployed to the region dropped munitions in Syria west of Aleppo against a training camp of the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham group, formerly known as the Al Nusra Front and linked to Al Qaeda.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman said "The removal of this training camp disrupts training operations and discourages hardline Islamist and Syrian opposition groups from joining or cooperating with Al Qaeda on the battlefield."

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Defense Secretary James Mattis reportedly views himself as President Donald Trump's "babysitter," and his efforts to restrain the bombastic leader apparently created tensions with former White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

McMaster sought to provide Trump with an array of military options against North Korea, but the defense secretary allegedly refused to put all the options on the table in front of Trump, McMaster aides told The New Yorker. Meanwhile, the president reportedly did not pick up on Mattis's alleged attempts at stonewalling, and McMaster declined to expose his colleague.

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