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Christopher Miller was appointed acting secretary of defense

Washington — Christopher C. Miller, a little-known counter-terrorism official, flew to the Middle East last month to seek a diplomatic idea: ask Qatar to help develop a plan to acquire or otherwise marginalize Al Qaeda in Somalia Some senior leaders of the branches of Sabab. , They are more committed to attacking the West.

Mr. Miller received blessings from the then senior official of the National Security Council, Cash Patel. Officials say President Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien also knows about this business. But they bypassed Mike Pompeo, the chief diplomat of the United States, and when he found out, he thought the idea was half-baked and shut it down.

Now, control of US national security and foreign policy has been overturned. Trump abruptly appointed Mr. Miller as acting secretary of defense this week-at least in writing, making him the level of Mr. Pompeo’s administration in the past two months. Mr. Patel will soon become Mr. Miller’s chief of staff.

The appointment made Mr. Miller unexpectedly grow. He is a former Green Beret official. He was a counter-terrorism adviser to the National Security Council 11 months ago and lacks extensive experience in managing large organizations. When Trump refused to admit that he had lost the election, the extraordinary powers and responsibilities he would have in the uncertain final battle of the Trump administration immediately attracted widespread attention, and the new Pentagon leader was widely known. .

According to people who work with him, Mr. Miller has shown a tenacious behavior, sometimes in conflict with the major policy issues he deals with. His background in the Army Special Forces matches his name because he is harsh and does not always respect bureaucratic review procedures, which are designed to ensure that potential consequences are fully considered before actions are taken.

The trip to Qatar that Mr. Miller had never reported before allowed him to understand the mentality of the acting secretary. The embarrassing shutdown of the effort was an embarrassing result for the US government, partly because the emirate of Qatar had apparently agreed to his proposal to explore Miller.

This may also herald the final move or open or secret action that Mr. Trump and his senior aides may take in the final weeks of their tenure.

Tricia Bacon, a Somali expert at the American University in Washington and a former counter-terrorism analyst at the State Department, said: “The policy procedures of this administration are so weird.

Officials familiar with Miller’s suspension described it on condition of anonymity because of its sensitive diplomatic and intelligence nature. Spokespersons for the State Department, National Security Council and Miller declined to comment.

For such a delicate diplomatic attempt, Mr. Miller seems unlikely to be a messenger. He spent most of his 31-year military career in bleak special operations missions. He commanded the special forces rapid response team to fly to Afghanistan in December 2001 to help a team that was accidentally attacked by a US bomb. They stayed only to strengthen security around Hamid Karzai, who had just been appointed interim president of Afghanistan. During the Iraq War, Mr. Miller hunted down high-value rebel leaders.

In 2018, he became a senior counter-terrorism officer of the National Security Council, a subsidiary of the White House that manages inter-agency affairs involving military, intelligence, and foreign policy.

Mr. Miller often worked with Patel, a former assistant to California Representative Devin Nunes, the top Republican of the House Intelligence Committee, and Trump’s outspoken support By.

In contrast, according to interviews with officials working with Mr. Miller, Mr. Miller is not called a guerrilla thinker. His anti-terrorism and hostage-focused portfolio have allowed him to largely avoid national security issues like Russia that caused political turmoil during the Trump era. His surveillance by the National Security Council included meetings that led to a U.S. commando raid on Syria last year, killing ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and he won The trust of Mr. O’Brien and other officials and Mr. Patel.

This year, Mr. Miller held a short-term counter-terrorism position at the Pentagon, and then confirmed in the Senate in August that he heads the National Counter-Terrorism Center, which was established after the September 11, 2001 attacks and should be used as a clearing house. Provide information on terrorist threats and coordinate intelligence sharing among organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency, FBI, and National Security Agency.

The center should not play a business role. But when Mr. Miller studied intelligence reports about senior leaders of the Al-Shabaab and Somalia, he told his colleagues that it was possible to change the equation that put the United States into an irregular war with Al-Shabaab, including regular drone strikes against suspected militants. , And in January, the Indian Air Force launched a deadly attack on the Shabab people in Manda Bay, Kenya.

For a long time, US officials have been trying to think about the loosely organized faction of “Shabab”, most of which are focused on controlling narrow goal targets in Somalia, but some of them want to participate in the global jihad of “Al Qaeda” and be outside of terrorist attacks. Its borders.

Towards the end of the Obama administration, the executive branch regarded the entire group as the enemy of the war on terrorism, and Mr. Trump eased restrictions on military strikes against Somalia. However, years of regular bombing failed to make the Al-Shabaab follow suit, and the Trump administration began to move away from the Horn of Africa in its fourth year.

During that turmoil, Mr. Miller wanted to know whether it was possible to separate the important Shabab faction from Al Qaeda in order to mitigate the threat to American interests outside Somalia. He is concerned about a group of about 10 older leaders who have close ties to Al Qaeda, not the younger, more nationalist Al-Shabaab leaders.

It is difficult to obtain accurate and timely intelligence to target and kill Al-Shabaab leaders who have links with Al-Qaida. Officials say that Mr. Miller has proposed the idea of ​​isolating or eliminating them: maybe young leaders may be persuaded to oppose them, or they may buy older generations to free themselves from the struggle.

Luke Hartig said that given his previous experience as a green beret officer in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Miller will be attracted to reach an unorthodox agreement with a member of an Islamic militant group to reduce the threat of terrorism. The idea makes sense. , Formerly served as the senior director of the National Security Council in the Obama administration responsible for counter-terrorism, and worked with Mr. Miller.

Hartig said: “Based on Chris Miller’s military background in the special forces, he will certainly be interested in defeating our terrorist enemies with irregular or other forces.”

Qataris have experience in peace negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Mr. Miller went to Mr. Patel with the idea of ​​letting them participate in similar outreach work. With the blessing of the National Security Council, Mr. Miller contacted the Qatar ambassador to the United States to seek the support of the chief of the country.

Then, on the weekend of Columbus Day, Mr. Miller and his aides flew to Doha to hold talks with senior Qatar officials, including its foreign minister and senior counter-terrorism leaders. Qataris are said to have expressed interest in certain ideas but are cautious about how to proceed. As a first step, they proposed to let Norwegian diplomats deal with the Taliban.

Officials said that when Mr. Miller returned from the trip, he proposed arranging tripartite talks with Qatar and Norway to supplement these proposals. However, by then, Mr. Pompeo and his senior assistants were aware of his efforts.

Within the State Department, this move was regarded as free diplomacy, which was an invasion of Mr. Pompeo’s territory. Moreover, more broadly, many counter-terrorism policy officials believe that this move is not sufficient.

Questions include: finding out who the Al-Shabaab talks to whose leaders often kill each other in ideological disputes; figuring out what this effort means for the nascent Somali government that the United States is supporting; and censoring The public relations risk of negotiating with people associated with Al Qaeda.

Mr. Pompeo insisted that the State Council take over Mr. Miller’s initiative. He referred the matter to the department’s Africa Bureau. Officials said that even before Trump lost the election, it was widely regarded as the death of bureaucracy. This reversal made the US government appear empty in the Middle East.

Bacon said: “This story is strange on many levels.” “Reducing the threat to American interests by eliminating 10 Shabab agents has not been achieved. Shabab’s threat is not so simple. We have tried, but no use.”

Thom Shanker contributed the report.

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