Chuck Hagel takes top US defence job

Written by Associated Press | Washington | Updated: Feb 28 2013, 09:49am hrs
Chuck Hagel was set to take charge of the US defence department on Wednesday after a bruising confirmation fight and two days before billions in budget cuts are scheduled to hit the military.

The Republican, who still faces skepticism and anger from some former Senate colleagues of his own party, was expected to be sworn in after a deeply divided chamber voted on Tuesday to confirm him.

The twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran now faces $46 billion in automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that will hit the Pentagon on Friday unless a deal can be made by the Obama administration and Congress to avoid them. But no talks on a pact appeared to be under way.

Among Hagels challenges are deciding on troop levels in Afghanistan as the US army em-erges from two wars and fighting worldwide terrorism with smaller, deficit-driven budgets.