Panetta Offers Campaign Context for Troop Drawdown
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 13, 2013 The president’s announcement yesterday that 34,000 U.S. troops will come out of Afghanistan in the next 12 months makes sense in the context of the broader campaign, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
During what he called his last Pentagon news conference, the secretary noted that when he assumed his position in mid-2011, the U.S. troop surge was fully in place, with about 100,000 service members on the ground there.
“These additional forces have expanded our footprint and provided the combat power necessary to disrupt the insurgency and push it out of its traditional strongholds, particularly in the south,” he said.
In the not quite two years since, the secretary said, U.S. and coalition forces have partnered closely with their Afghan counterparts, which are now at their full end strength of 352,000. Those forces are leading nearly 90 percent of security operations in Afghanistan, and are responsible for the security of more than three-fourths of the people, he said.
“They have retained security gains even as the United States has drawn down the surge forces that we had there, the 33,000,” Panetta said.
He added that Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, who Feb. 10 turned over command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan as well as NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, had for the past several months thoroughly assessed the campaign plan and what troop strength is required to carry it out. Panetta said he fully supported Allen’s recommendations, which informed the president’s decision.
“The president's decision, announced last night, … puts us firmly on a path, I believe, to fulfill our mission in
Afghanistan,” he said.
The secretary said he’s confident the new ISAF commander, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., “will have the combat power he needs to protect our forces and to continue building up the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces.”
The United States, NATO, and the Afghan government set a course in 2010 that leads to Afghan forces assuming full responsibility for their nation’s security by the end of 2014.
“We are well on track for that goal,” Panetta said. “And we will maintain a long-term commitment to Afghanistan, including through the continued training and equipping of Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida and their affiliates.”
As he prepares to hand over his responsibilities as secretary of defense, Panetta said, “with the continued dedication and sacrifice of our troops, I am fully confident … that we will prevail in denying al-Qaida a safe haven from which to attack our homeland.”