WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama Monday nominated his counterterrorism adviser John Brennan as CIA director, and Chuck Hagel, a former maverick Republican senator, as defence secretary. Brennan’s choice as head of Central Intelligence Agency, came two months after David Petraeus stepped down admitting an extramarital affair. The president, who will be formally sworn in to begin his second term in office in just two weeks, announced his nominations Monday afternoon from the White House in Washington. “These two leaders have dedicated their lives to protecting our country,” said President Obama. “I’m confident they will do an outstanding job.”Both Brennan and Hagel have been rumoured in recent days to take on new roles within the Obama administration, but only with Monday’s announcement from the president himself did the news become official. A confirmation battle in the Senate is expected to follow the choice for these key posts, although Obama asked lawmakers to confirm both men “as soon as possible” after making his announcement. Hagel, 66, will replace the current US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, if confirmed by the Senate. He will also be the first veteran of the Vietnam War to hold the post. “To this day, Chuck bears the scars and the shrapnel” of service in Vietnam, the president said on Monday. Accepting the nomination, Sen. Hagel replied, “I am grateful for this opportunity to serve our men and women in uniform again.” Known as an outspoken critic of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as an opponent of the ‘Jewish lobby’ in Washington and of the possible strike against Iran, Hagel has faced tough criticism for his remarks. On Monday, however, President Obama saluted Sen. Hagel’s “willingness to speak his mind” in Congress, “even if it wasn’t popular.” “That’s exactly the spirit I want on my national security team,” said the president. Obama’s administration officials have already dismissed claims of Hagel’s anti-Israel and pro-Iran stance, saying he is “completely in line with the president” on these issues.Brennan, 57, who has worked in CIA for 25 years and played a key role in the planning of the 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden, has been behind the controversial US drone program. He advocated the use of drones overseas, calling targeted killing operations “legal, ethical and wise.”During Monday’s announcement, Obama called Brennan“one of our nation’s most skilled and respected” intelligence leaders.“He understands we are a nation of laws. In moments of debate and decision, he asks the tough questions and insists on high and rigorous standards,” he said of his nominee. Brennan had withdrawn his CIA director nomination back in 2008, as questions about his involvement in enhanced interrogation techniques forced him to assert he is “a strong opponent” of the George W Bush administration policies. Speaking from the White House on Monday, Brennan said, “Leading the agency I served for 15 years which would be the greatest privilege of my life.” Agencies add: Obama said Hagel “understands that America stands strongest when we stand with allies and with friends,” after criticism by Republican lawmakers of the former Nebraska senator’s past statements on Israel.He said that Hagel, a Republican who broke with his party through his criticism of the Iraq war, earned “respect of national security and military leaders, Republicans and Democrats, including me.”Obama called Hagel “an American patriot” and said that he would play a critical role as the first person of enlisted rank to serve as defense secretary. “Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction. He knows that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud, that’s something we only do when it’s absolutely necessary,” Obama said.