WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s top candidate for defense secretary is a contrarian Republican moderate and decorated Vietnam combat veteran who’s likely to support a more rapid withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan.

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel has another credential important to the president: a personal relationship forged with Obama when both were in the Senate.

The 66-year-old Hagel has emerged as the front-runner for the Pentagon’s top job. Hagel would succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

An announcement is expected this coming week.

As defense secretary, Hagel would oversee the Afghanistan troop withdrawal and direct some of the steepest cuts in Pentagon spending in years.

Hagel left the Senate in 2009, ending a political career in which he carved out a reputation as an independent thinker and blunt speaker.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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