WASHINGTON – President-elect Donald Trump will select retired Marine General John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security, multiple media outlets reported Wednesday, adding another military figure to the incoming cabinet.
Kelly, 66, served more than 40 years in uniform before retiring in January as the head of the U.S. military command overseeing Central and South America, Southern Command. The role involved integrating federal agencies to fight illicit cross-border trafficking.
Kelly has been vocal about the threat posed by a porous southern border, expressed concerns about opening all combat positions to women in the armed forces and reportedly opposed President Barack Obama’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
The Department of Homeland Security was created after the 9/11 terror attacks. The duties of the Department, which manages 240,000 employees, range from antiterrorism to disaster prevention and management.
As head of the Department of Homeland Security, Kelly would be responsible for building Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.
“Despite the heroic efforts of our law enforcement colleagues, criminal organizations are constantly adapting their methods for trafficking across our borders,” Kelly told the Senate Armed Services Committee in testimony last year. “While there is not yet any indication that the criminal networks involved in human and drug trafficking are interested in supporting the efforts of terrorist groups, these networks could unwittingly, or even wittingly, facilitate the movement of terrorist operatives or weapons of mass destruction toward our borders.’’
While serving in uniform, Kelly openly questioned Obama’s decision to open all military combat roles to women.
“They’re saying we are not going to change any standards,” Kelly told reporters at the Pentagon in January. “There will be great pressure, whether it’s 12 months from now, four years from now, because the question will be asked whether we’ve let women into these other roles, why aren’t they staying in those other roles?’’
“If we don’t change standards it will be very, very difficult to have any numbers — any real numbers — come into the infantry, or the Rangers or the SEALs, but that’s their business.”
Kelly has rejected criticism from human rights activists about the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, which fell under his command as the head of Southern Command, and has said there isn’t evidence to support that the detention center inspires extremists.
“As Americans, you should be proud of [Joint Task Force Guantanamo],” he said at his outgoing ceremony in January. “We can all disagree about whether it should be there or somewhere else, but you should be proud of [Joint Task Force Guantanamo].”
At the time he also critiqued American drug use, saying it’s responsible for many of the problems facing Latin American allies.
“The vast majority of the countries in the Caribbean and Latin America are our friends and I’m proud to call them friends,” he said. “… Many of the problems that they suffer every day — some of the most violent countries in the world, and they struggle against it — but those problems are directly related to, in my estimation, to our drug problem in the United States, or our drug consumption.”
Kelly is the highest ranking military officer to have lost a child serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. His son, 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, died in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban in 2010.
He worked under Trump’s pick for Defense Secretary retired Gen. James Mattis during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, led U.S. troops in western Iraq and served as a special assistant to the NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe.
Trump is planning to formally select Kelly next week, along with his remaining national security positions, according to The New York Times.
Trump has received some criticism and concern for surrounding himself with military figures. He tapped retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for defense secretary and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser. Also, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus is under consideration for secretary of state.