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Senior Leaders Reflect on Talks With Troops, Wounded

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2012 – The Defense Department’s most-senior civilian and its top military chief said conversations they’ve had with service members deployed in Afghanistan and talks with wounded warriors provide them inspiration and assurance of mission success.

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Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brief reporters at the Pentagon, June 29, 2012. DOD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sun L. Vega

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, today told Pentagon reporters that U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan are helping Afghans to win on their terms.

The secretary said the mission in Afghanistan is to establish a nation that can govern and secure itself. NATO and the Afghan government, under President Hamid Karzai, have agreed that Afghan forces will assume full security lead in the country as International Security Assistance Force troops transition to an advise-and-assist role by the end of 2014.

“And that's the path we're on,” Panetta said. “That's the transition we're making. We've already got over 50 percent of the population transitioned to Afghan control and security. We're in the process of going to 75 percent of their population in the third tranche that's been announced by President Karzai.”

The secretary noted he saw “a lot of wounded warriors” at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio this week.

“When you walk in these rooms and see these wounded warriors, you cannot help but be inspired by the spirit that they have to fight on,” he said.

Many troops wounded in Afghanistan have “incredible wounds,” he said, “and yet they have a smile on their face, and they're going to fight on.”

The secretary said he also visited the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, where wounded warriors receive rehabilitative therapy.

“There's tremendous spirit. Tremendous things are being done. I mean, miracles are being produced every day with regards to these kids,” he said. “And so what I get from them is a tremendous amount of inspiration with regards to the incredible spirit they have to fight on.”

Panetta said most of the wounded troops he spoke with wanted to go back to their units in Afghanistan.

“They felt very good about … the quality of colleagues that they're fighting with, and they feel good about the mission that they were involved with,” he said. “The one thing that they want to see is that we don't walk away from this, but that we continue the effort to make sure that this mission is accomplished.”

The secretary said he asked troops how they felt about the situation in Afghanistan “because they're the ones that probably can speak with a hell of a lot more authority about … how things are going there than almost anybody else.”

Everyone he talked to, he said, felt security in Afghanistan is improving, their units are doing a good job, and things are getting better.

“And I said to them, I think your sacrifice is worthwhile,” Panetta said. He added that on his visits and on Dempsey’s, and in every report they get from Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, ISAF commander, “it's clear that … we are in the right direction here.”

“This is tough,” the secretary acknowledged. “We've seen a spike in violence. We've seen an enemy that continues to be resilient. This is still a heavy fight.”

But progress is happening, he added, and that keeps him confident that coalition and Afghan forces will “achieve the mission that Afghanistan is all about.”

Dempsey said winning in Afghanistan must be defined on Afghan terms.

“You've heard many of us say … you can't kill your way out of this kind of conflict,” the chairman told reporters. “So this is about us empowering and enabling our Afghan security partners, providing the space necessary for governance and economics to catch up. And that is the definition of winning. It's that kind of conflict.”

Dempsey said visiting wounded warriors is a learning experience.

“You learn about the real meaning of courage -- I mean, the REAL meaning of courage,” he said.

Dempsey said he is struck by the level of trust troops have that their leaders will take care of them.

“That's a great blessing, that we have that kind of trust within the ranks,” the chairman said. “And it's a trust we have to live up to.”


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Leon E. Panetta
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

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