President-elect Joe Biden has chosen retired General Lloyd Austin, to be his defence secretary, two people familiar with the decision said on Monday.
Mr. Austin, who oversaw U.S. forces in the Middle East under President Barack Obama, would be the first Black U.S. secretary of defence.
His choice comes as a surprise as Michele Flournoy, a former top Defence Department official was being touted as the leading contender for the job.
Ms. Flournoy would have been the first woman defence secretary.
The news was first reported by Politico.
Mr. Austin, who retired in 2016, will need a waiver from Congress since it has been less than the required seven years since he served.
He would be the second Pentagon chief in four years to need a waiver, after President Donald Trump picked James Mattis, a retired Marine general, to be his first defence secretary.
The nomination of Mr. Austin, who headed U.S. Central Command under Obama, could draw fire from some progressive groups given his role in retirement on the board of a number of companies, including weapons maker Raytheon Technologies Corp.
But Mr. Biden and Mr. Austin developed a working relationship during the Obama administration and the retired general has been advising the transition team on national security issues, one of the people familiar with the decision to name him said.
Mr. Biden’s decision to nominate the first Black defence secretary in Mr. Austin helps him make good on his diversity promise.
It also will resonate among proponents for greater diversity in the leadership of the U.S. armed forces, which is regularly criticised for failing to promote Black service members and whose top tier has been largely white.
Mr. Austin has not cultivated a public persona and is not seen as someone who enjoys the media spotlight.
However, he is known to be a shrewd military strategist with deep knowledge of the U.S. armed forces.
Earlier on Monday, the Democrat who leads the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, had openly shown his preference for Ms. Flournoy.
“I think Michelle Flournoy is hands-down the best-qualified person to do the job,” Mr. Smith said.
But David Segal, executive director of the progressive group Demand Progress, said Mr. Austin was a better choice given his role presiding over drawdowns of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.
And while he had some concerning ties to major companies like Raytheon, they were not as broad in scope as those of Ms. Flournoy.
“He doesn’t seem to have a web of entanglements that are as opaque and dense as hers,” Mr. Segal told Reuters.
Mr. Biden, a Democrat, has pressed ahead with the transition to the White House even as Mr. Trump, a Republican, refuses to concede the November 3 election and wages a foundering effort to overturn the results with unsubstantiated claims of fraud.
Dozens of Mr. Trump’s legal challenges have been rejected by the courts, the latest on Monday when judges in Detroit and Atlanta tossed bids to decertify Mr. Biden’s election victories in Michigan and Georgia.
Mr. Biden won Michigan by about 154,000 votes and Georgia by about 12,000 votes.
In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Monday certified the state’s results, a statement said, after a third count confirmed Mr. Biden’s win.