By Tim Kelly and Idrees Ali
TOKYO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Scott Swift said he plans to retire after being passed over for promotion to the chief of all military forces in the region in the wake of two deadly collisions involving U.S. warships.
Swift was in the running to replace Admiral Harry Harris as the Commander, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM). Whoever the Pentagon chooses to replace Harris will be taking over at a time when North Korea poses a rising threat and China is flexing its military muscle.
Any replacement will have to be approved by the U.S. Senate, giving U.S. President Trump limited time to find a replacement and, alternatively, the Pentagon could ask Harris to continue beyond the expected end of his three-year term in May.
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"I have been informed by the Chief of Naval Operations that I will not be his nominee to replace Admiral Harry Harris as the Commander, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM)," Swift said in an e-mailed statement.
"In keeping with tradition and in loyalty to the Navy, I have submitted my request to retire," Swift said. He did not request a retirement date.
Like Harris, Swift is a proponent of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and a strong critic of Beijing's island building there.
Under Swift's command the U.S. Navy's Third Fleet, which normally operates east of the international date line in the Pacific has taken a command role in Asia alongside the Seventh Fleet, which is headquartered in Japan.
The move aimed to bolster U.S. forces in the region as a counterweight to China's growing military might.
Swift did not refer to the spate naval collisions in the Pacific in recent months when announcing his retirement on Monday in the United States.
But, he is the most senior naval officer to step down after collisions in June and August in which a total of 17 U.S. sailors were killed.
In August, Swift removed Seventh Fleet chief Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, citing a lack of confidence in his ability to command.
Ten sailors aboard the guided missile destroyer John S. McCain died when it collided with a tanker east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore on Aug. 21. Its sister ship, the Fitzgerald, almost sank off the Japanese coast on June 17 after colliding with a container ship. Seven crew died.
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)