WASHINGTON -  President Donald Trump on Friday finally parted ways with controversial far-right chief strategist Steve Bannon, after weeks of speculation and as the administration reels from the fallout over Trump’s response to a violent white supremacist rally.

Seen as the driving force behind Trump’s nationalist-populist agenda - making him a hero of the so-called “alt right” and a bete noire for centrists - Bannon’s presence at the White House has been contested from the start.

He was the latest in a series of high-profile casualties in Trump’s inner circle, including press secretary Sean Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus and communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

With Trump under fire from all sides for insisting anti-racism protesters were equally to blame for violence stemming from a weekend rally staged by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, the president faced renewed pressure to let go of his firebrand aide.

In announcing the 63-year-old Bannon’s departure, the White House did not specify whether he had resigned or - as was widely reported - was forced out.

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” Trump’s press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

Labelled a white supremacist by his critics, the one-time Goldman Sachs investment banker and former head of ultra conservative outlet Breitbart News joined the Trump campaign less than three months before the November 2016 vote and was credited with playing a major role in the real estate magnate’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton.

Having privately boasted about handpicking Trump’s cabinet, he went on to become the nucleus of one of several competing power centers in what has been a chaotic West Wing.

But Bannon reportedly fell into disfavor for allegedly leaking stories about White House colleagues who he felt did not sufficiently adhere to his populist agenda.

The president’s new chief of staff, Kelly, had reportedly warned he would not tolerate what he saw as Bannon’s behind the scenes maneuvering.

Bannon had earlier this year lost his coveted place on the National Security Council, which decides issues of war and peace.

And the president - said to have grown increasingly irritated by Bannon’s high profile - was reportedly furious about an interview his aide gave this week to a left-leaning publication in which he contradicted the Republican billionaire’s position on North Korea.

The New York Times quoted a person close to Bannon as insisting the parting of ways was his own idea, and that he had submitted his resignation on August 7, to be announced at the start of this week - but that it was delayed by the chaotic developments of recent days.

Bannon’s departure came as the US president faced a firestorm of criticism over his failure to unequivocally rebuke the white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville.

US military to create separate

unified cyber warfare command

President Donald Trump ordered the US military on Friday to elevate its cyber warfare operations to a separate command, signaling a new strategic emphasis on electronic and online offensive and defensive operations.

The move means the US Cyber Command, or Cybercom, will eventually become its own entity. It had been a subordinate part of the US Strategic Command since it was established in 2009.

“This new Unified Combatant Command will strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our nation’s defense,” Trump said in a statement.

“The elevation of United States Cyber Command demonstrates our increased resolve against cyberspace threats and will help reassure our allies and partners and deter our adversaries.”

The move would expand the number of the Defense Department’s unified combatant commands to 10, putting cyber warfare on an equal footing with the Strategic Command, the Special Operations Command, and regional commands.

Until now cyber warfare operations have been run under the umbrella of the National Security Agency, the country’s main electronic spying agency, with Admiral Michael Rogers heading both.

Rogers will retain his “dual-hatted” role for now, but once Cybercom is fully elevated he could be replaced by another four-star general or admiral.

Discussions on whether to hive off Cybercom and place it directly under Pentagon direction have gone on for several years, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is currently reviewing plans.

Rogers has said several times over the past year that they needed to recruit hundreds more skilled cyber operators before the separation could take place.

Cybercom is headquartered in Fort Meade, Maryland and will eventually comprise almost 6,200 personnel organized into 133 teams.

These “Cyber Mission Force” teams are already actively conducting operations and will achieve full operational capability by the end of fiscal year 2018.

Kenneth Rapuano, who is assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, said there was no firm timeline on when Cybercom would be fully stood up as a combatant command.

He said the move is not a response to any particular incident - such as Russian hacks during the 2016 election - but is a reflection of the command’s growing importance.

“This is a new sphere of warfare, and we have a steady increase in escalation in cyber incidents around the world,” Rapuano said.

John McCain, chairman of the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee, welcomed the move, but said more needs to be done to prepare the US and its military to meet cyber security challenges.

“We must develop a clear policy and strategy for deterring and responding to cyber threats,” McCain said.

 

AFP