Key Pentagon Leaders Replaced by Trump Allies After Esper's Firing

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Personnel changes in the Pentagon's top civilian ranks continued into Tuesday after former Defense Secretary Mark Esper was fired by President Donald Trump.

Three Trump allies stepped into new roles at the Defense Department, officials announced in a lengthy late-afternoon statement. The moves follow Trump's announcement this week that Christopher Miller, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, was the new acting defense secretary.

"Chris will do a GREAT job!" Trump tweeted on Monday. "Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service."

Now-retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata is filling the role as undersecretary of defense for policy, which he was nominated to fill earlier this year but withdrew from consideration when questions arose about past controversial comments. Tata, a controversial Fox News contributor, faced intense scrutiny from lawmakers for comments he made about Islam and former President Barack Obama, whom he called a "terrorist leader."

But when James H. Anderson, who was serving as acting undersecretary of defense for policy, resigned on Tuesday, defense officials announced Tata would move into the Pentagon's No. 3 position.

Read next: 'Not a Damn Thing Anyone Can Do About It': Trump Picking New Acting SecDef Raises Alarms

Two other Trump loyalists -- Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Kash Patel -- also picked up new high-profile Pentagon jobs.

Cohen-Watnick was the former aide of retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser who admitted to lying to the FBI about conversations with Russia's former ambassador to the U.S. The Pentagon announced in May that Cohen-Watnick would serve as deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics and global threats.

Now he's the acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, officials announced on Tuesday, after Joseph Kernan resigned from the position -- a move, according to the Pentagon, that was long-planned.

Patel, who previously worked for California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, is serving as the defense secretary's chief of staff after Jen Stewart resigned from the position. Patel, according to Politico, has had several roles in the Trump administration and is a "Nunes acolyte who played a key role as a Hill staffer in helping Republicans discredit the Russia probe."

Miller, in a statement, thanked Anderson, Kernan and Stewart for their service.

"Over their careers each has contributed greatly to the national defense and the future of the Department of Defense," the acting defense secretary said. "We wish them the best in their next endeavors."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Related: Pentagon's Acting Policy Chief Resigns in Wake of Esper Firing