Lloyd Austin becomes the first Black US defense secretary

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History was made Friday after the US Senate confirmed Lloyd Austin as the country's first-ever Black defense secretary.

The retired Army General passed his Senate confirmation with an overwhelming 93-2 in the 100-member chamber, far more than the simple majority needed.

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For Austin to take up his new role, a waiver was needed since he has not been out of the military for at least seven years - the mandatory law to ensure civilian control of the armed forces.

President Joe Biden signed the waiver into law, which provided an exception to the restriction.

But there was bipartisan support for Austin's confirmation.

Senator Jack Reed, the incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, noted the wide range of challenges facing the country - including the coronavirus pandemic and competition with China and Russia.

“General Austin is an exceptionally qualified leader with a long and distinguished career in the US military,” Reed said before the vote.

“We’re in the most threatened time that we’re in,” said Senator James Inhofe, the outgoing Republican chairman of the armed services panel, as he also urged support for the nominee.

A statement from the Pentagon said Austin would receive an intelligence briefing shortly after being sworn in. He was also expected to receive a COVID briefing followed by a call with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

And in one of his first operational briefings, Austin was set to receive information about China and the Middle East.

Austin was previously the US Central Command chief, which is responsible for the Middle East. He was also the first Black Commander of CENTCOM.

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- With Reuters

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