Panetta Vows to Protect U.S. Troops
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, July 11, 2011 The U.S. military will do what it needs to do to protect service members from weapons Iran is providing to Iraqi extremists, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
“We’re very concerned that in June, we lost a helluva lot of Americans because of those attacks,” Panetta said to soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division gathered at Hope Chapel. “We cannot just simply stand back and allow this to continue to happen.”
Fifteen Americans died in Iraq in June, most killed by Iraqi extremists who received weapons and training from Iran, the secretary said. The weapons killing these troops are improvised rocket-assisted mortars and explosively formed penetrators, which are shaped charges designed specifically to pierce armor. Both types of weapons have been traced directly to Iran’s Quds Force.
“My first responsibility as secretary of defense -- the first responsibility of your commanders -- is to make damn sure we do everything we can to protect you,” Panetta said.
The first effort is to push the Iraqi government and military to take on the responsibility of going after these Shia groups and going after the weapons caches, the secretary said. “They are starting to do that,” he added. “We are involved in a number of joint operations with the Iraqis.”
American forces also can take unilateral action against the groups launching the attacks, Panetta said. Finally, he added, the United States must bring pressure on Iran to stop this behavior.
“They need to know that our first responsibility is to protect those defending our country, and that is something we are going to do,” he said. “This is not something we are going to walk away from. We’re going to take this straight on.”