MR. : Ladies and gentlemen, the United States secretary of defense, Leon Panetta -- (in French) -- and Peter MacKay, ministre de la Defense nationale.
MINISTER PETER MACKAY: Thank you. (In French.) Good morning. Thank you very much for joining us here. And I want to begin by both welcoming and extending my thanks to my counterpart, United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who joins us on the eve of the opening of the International Security Forum hosted here in Halifax.
And so, Secretary Panetta, I really want to tell you how grateful we are for your presence. We've had a great bilateral this morning, a chance to discuss some very salient issues for both our countries -- issues that relate to our collective continental defense. I'm talking about subject matters such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and our mutual interest in the procurement of this 21st-century aircraft to protect North America, to continue to be interoperable and to work together in international missions, as we've seen most recently in the mission Unified Protector in Libya.
We also had the chance to discuss in the broader concept continental security, our collective interest in working together through NORAD, through the Joint Permanent Board on Defense, and our collective efforts both in Libya and the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan, and Canada assuming a more prominent role on the training side with the recent promotion of Major General Mike Day, the role that we have assumed there with 900-plus Canadian trainers in and around Kabul figures very prominent in the further transition of responsibility for security to the Afghan people, the Afghan government.
And so Canada, U.S. are working very closely in the defense relationship and partnership here in North America, but certainly around the globe. Our collective efforts around global security are extremely important. It's a high priority for Canada. And this is why, again, it's a great honor to host Secretary Panetta here in Halifax at this international security conference.
Over to you, Leon.
SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Thank you. Thank you very much, Minister MacKay, Peter.
It's a tremendous honor for me to have the opportunity to be here on the minister's home turf of Nova Scotia. As a former member of the U.S. Congress, I know how important it is to maintain a close connection to your constituency. And on that basis, I would -- I would invite you to come to my constituency of Monterey, California, when you get a chance because that's another beautiful part of the world as well.
This is my first trip to Canada as a secretary of defense, but I've had the opportunity to come here a number of times in other capacities, both as a member of Congress, as a chief of staff to President Clinton, as a CIA director and now as secretary of defense.
I believe very deeply that this is a special relationship, a very special relationship between our two countries. We share more than a -- than a border with our Canadian allies. We share a common history, we share common values, and we share a common approach to advancing our security interests.
All of this has led to a defense relationship that we enjoy today, one of the strongest defense relationships that we have in the world. We share a vision for extending peace and prosperity through a very broad alliance structure, both as NATO allies and as advocates for an enduring, multilateral engagement here in North America and around the globe.
And today we had a chance to discuss a number of ways to expand that cooperation in tackling some of the most pressing challenges that we face not only around the world, but here in the Western Hemisphere. So we talked about working to improve our coordination in this area as well, dealing with the trafficking of narcotics, with weapons, with people, with the ability to try to secure borders, et cetera. One of -- one of the key ways to approach these problems is by fostering regional security forums such as the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas and by building the capacity of our neighbors to counter these kinds of threats. And I look forward to working with Peter MacKay in trying to expand that cooperation.
We also discussed a NATO summit that we'll be having in Chicago. And obviously, it'll be a full agenda there. And our efforts there will be to declare the interim capability for NATO's European territorial missile defense, the next steps on Afghanistan and, obviously, further ways to strengthen the trans-Atlantic alliance that we enjoy.
For more than 50 years, more than 50 years, we've been partnered together on homeland defense through NORAD. The headquarters I had a chance to visit, and it is incredible to see Americans and Canadians standing side by side in that operations center. It is -- it is a singular signal that Canada and the United States stand together when it comes to the security of our countries.
And along those lines, you know, I did see press reports that indicated that somehow we were not committed to the F-35. Let me make very clear that the United States is committed to the development of the F-35 and to a cooperative relationship with the F-35 with our Canadian friends. The F-35 is going to be an essential fighter that will help in NORAD and will be the future in helping us with the security challenges that we face.
Our troops have stood shoulder to shoulder not only here but in Afghanistan and elsewhere throughout the world. And in Libya we had the chance to work together to give Libya back to the Libyan people and try to protect those people from a brutal regime.
Just as our men and women in uniform have partnered together so effectively, Minister MacKay and I have really, I think, continued and strengthened a very warm relationship between our two countries when it comes to security. We had the opportunity to meet two months ago in Washington, and we saw each other at the NATO ministerial. And we've committed to continuing a dialogue that will hopefully strengthen that cooperation and relationship.
As I did in Washington, and I want to do here, I want to thank Canada in particular for the contributions in Afghanistan. You've had 150 Canadian heroes who've paid the ultimate price.
And in Libya, where the -- where I met the Canadian general, Bouchard -- someone who is incredibly capable and instrumental in leading those successful operations -- all of that reflects the fact that we fight together and we bleed together as one.
I'm very much looking forward to participating in the security forum here this afternoon. And finally, let me just extend my thanks to the people of Canada for the warm hospitality that they've provided me in the visit I've had. I've had cousins who've come through Canada and -- as part of my Italian heritage. And Canada for me is a very special place.
Together, we are a powerful voice, the United States and Canada. We represent a very powerful voice for peace, for freedom, for democracy and for security.
And Mr. Minister, you have my commitment that I will do whatever I can to ensure that we continue to strengthen that voice not only in this hemisphere but in the world.
MINISTER MACKAY: Thank you very much, Leon.
MODERATOR: So to begin -- to begin questions, I will start with Reuters. Stewart.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. Given U.S. assurances that the United States will not reduce its military posture in Asia or in the Middle East, what kind of cuts are being considered for the U.S. military in Europe? And is it something that will come up in your talks here in Halifax?
SEC. PANETTA: In reviewing, obviously, the budget that we're dealing with and the budget requirements on savings that we've been given, the total number is about 450-billion-plus that the Congress has asked us to reduce the defense budget by over the next 10 years. And we've begun an extensive process within the Defense Department to review all of the areas involved.
There are three or four guidelines that are extremely important to me. Number one, the United States is going to protect the best military in the world. We are the strongest in the world. We intend to remain the best military in the world.
Two, I do not want to hollow out the force, which is something that's happened with past cuts, where cuts have been made across the board, weakening every area of defense. We are not going to do that.
Thirdly, that leads me to looking at a series of areas where we can try to achieve savings, and those areas include efficiencies, they include procurement reform, they include the area of compensation, and they also include force structure reductions. All of those areas are being looked at.
We've made no decisions as to, you know, what areas we will in fact make the reductions, but I think it's fair to say that everything is on the table, and we will do nothing without consulting with our allies so that they are aware of the decisions we make.
There's no question we're going to be a smaller, agile, flexible, more deployable force. Our hope is to have a technological edge so that we can really meet the challenges of the future. That's kind of a broad strategy guideline that we're going to use. But with regards to every area, including Europe, our goal is to make sure that we're able to maintain a relationship that allows us to provide security not only in the Pacific and the Middle East, but also with regards to the Mediterranean arena as well.
MODERATOR: Radio-Canada, vous avez une question?
Q: (In French.)
MIN. MACKAY: Je crois que la defense --
INTERPRETER: Perhaps I could give the question for you.
MIN. MACKAY: Oh, yes, of course.
INTERPRETER: Sorry. The question was whether Minister MacKay is concerned about the F-35 program because of possible cuts in the United States.
MIN. MACKAY: (In French.)
Q: (In French.)
INTERPRETER: Sorry, Minister MacKay was just saying that Minister Panetta had clarified the situation with respect to the U.S.'s intent to make budget cuts to the defense budget.
MIN. MACKAY: (Through interpreter.) With respect to your specific question, Canada's intention is to proceed with the procurement process. Of course, there are pressures, but we believe this is an absolutely critical military asset for the protection of North America. We're very confident about the future of the program, and we believe it's absolutely necessary to keep it in place. And of course, the U.S. also intends to continue the process. And there are agreements not only with Lockheed Martin but with nine other partners.
Q: I'm Jack Julian with CBC News, and I've a joint question. Defense Secretary Panetta, you said that you're committed to the F-35 program. But I want to know, do you think you'll be able to get funding for it?
And my backup question or my second question for Peter MacKay is if the program -- if there are funding problems in the program founders because of financial difficulties, what's Canada's backup plan?
SEC. PANETTA: On the first part of that, yes, I feel very confident that we'll get funding for the F-35 program. This is the fighter plane for the future. And in some ways, we really have no alternative. This is the plane that is going to be able to provide the technology, the capabilities for the future. We need to have this. It's true for us, it's true for our partners and not only Canadians but others who are going to work with us and participate with us in the development of the -- of the F-35.
You know, let me -- let me say that as we go through the budget decisions that we have to make, obviously, as I said, there are areas where we will look for savings. We're looking at procurement reform; we're looking at other areas. But we also have to look at areas where we continue to invest in the future, and the F-35 is one of those areas where we are going to continue to invest in the future.
MIN. MACKAY: Given those comments -- and those are comments that are very much in line with the discussion Defense Secretary Panetta and I had some two months ago at the Pentagon that the United States' commitment to this program is firm, is fast. This is the very reason that Canada has chosen this aircraft.
It's because of the eye-watering technology aboard the F-35. It's the ability to dominate and own the airspace over Continental North America. There is no fifth-generation aircraft other than the F-35 available to Canada and the United States. So all of the hypothetical discussions and quite negative discussions, quite frankly, about this program are really just clatter and noise.
This program is going ahead. Clearly, budgetary pressures are going to lead to speculation. We are dealing with our budgets as all countries are dealing with its budget, but we are not wavering on our commitment to this program.
There are pillars within every defense department. This is one of those pillars: having the ability to protect your sovereignty. And there is a direct link, a direct link between our national sovereignty and our ability to protect our airspace, our commitments through NORAD, our NATO commitments.
And let me refresh everyone's memory again about how Canada played such a critical role in the success of the Libya mission, because of fighter aircraft, because of interoperability of aircraft. And these planes literally -- and look, I'm no engineer, but they have increased capacity to communicate and literally talk to one another. The stealth capability and the many other features of that aircraft are what make it such an important part of the North American protection and our ability to reach out and contribute internationally, as we saw recently in Libya and as we are continuing to see in missions like Afghanistan.
NATO countries -- other NATO countries, quite frankly, are looking at this aircraft as well, and we have a group that are clearly already committed, including the United Kingdom, including Australia and others.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we only have time for two more questions. And I see Canadian press and Wall Street Journal there. So proceed.
Q: Secretary Panetta, there's been some rumblings that you're not happy with the size of Canada's purchase, that you don't believe that 65 or 66 planes are enough to cover our airspace under our defense agreements. Is there any truth to that?
SEC. PANETTA: No, that's just not true. This is -- Canada has to make decisions as to what it believes are necessary. And I trust the ability of Canada and the minister to make the right decisions as a to what they need, and we'll support that.
Q: Thank you. Adam Entous with the Wall Street Journal. A question for both of you on Afghanistan. We know the NATO meeting coming up in May in Chicago, and you're looking to kind of lay out what the transition will look like. General Amos of the Marines is quoted in an interview today saying that he's confident that we'll be able to shift from a full counterinsurgency there to a train-and-assist mission within 12 months. And I wanted to ask whether that's a feasible time frame. Are we going to be able to shift from a -- from a COIN to a train-and-assist?
SEC. PANETTA: You know, I -- you know, I'm not -- I'm not familiar with what General Amos may or may not have said, but our commitment is to implement the agreement at Lisbon. And the agreement at Lisbon is to continue to work towards the ability to reduce our combat presence by the end of 2014. And obviously, we are going to go through the -- you know, the campaign that General Allen will outline, as we approach that commitment.
It's -- you know, there's no question there is going to be, as we develop our ability to secure that country, to weaken the Taliban, to get the Afghan Army and police in place -- that there is going to be a transition here that takes place. As a matter of fact, I will tell you that, you know, we're going to -- we're going to complete another tranche of provinces that will go to the Afghans for security and governance. We've already completed one group earlier this year; they're going well. We'll complete another tranche, hopefully in December. That will represent, by the way, over 50 percent of the Afghan population that will be involved now in these transitions, so we're moving in the right direction.
And as we do that, obviously, we're trying to get the Afghan Army, the Afghan police, to assume more of the responsibilities with regards to combat operations. But this is going to take a transition period. And I would -- I would not assign a particular date or time frame for that.
That's going to depend an awful lot on General Allen and working with ISAF to determine how best to make the transition from a combat role to an advise-and-assist role. But there have been no decisions regarding a time frame at this point.
MIN. MACKAY: I just returned from Afghanistan just under a week ago, met with General Allen, the commander of ISAF. Canada has assumed a very prominent role on that training.
And you'll recall that NATO has made and the secretary-general have made some very clear pronouncements with respect to training and the transition to training that is well under way. We are significantly down the road from where we were even a year ago. To that extent, the numbers of the Afghan national security force, both police and military, have swelled to over 300,000. The focus is now on professionalizing and enabling those forces to give them that firm backing that they need to start conducting independent operations, taking over the control of various provinces which is done in a staged fashion. And as Secretary Panetta has said, we're at the 50-plus mark now.
There is a desire, in fact -- and I would suggest it's happening -- to meet and exceed timelines. Whether we'll get there is going to depend on this very focused effort to train Afghan security forces. And within that training lexicon is improving literacy, is giving them all of the skills that they need -- and impart those skills by American and Canadian soldiers and implant them firmly in the background and in the training cycle of Afghan security forces.
And it's happening. I'm proud of Canada's role. Major General Mike Day, and before him General Stu Beare, worked very closely with that Afghan training mission to see that this enabling and empowerment of security forces is going to hold. And that will be the key, so that they can secure their own borders, provide security for their own villages and population, and carry on well into the future.
And Canada has a lot to bring to this effort. Many of the soldiers who are taking part in this training mission have combat experience, where they had deployed on previous missions into the south, into Kandahar province, where, I say with a great deal of pride and appreciation to our forces, they held the fort in the most difficult part of the country at the most critical time.
And the Afghans have been very quick to acknowledge that. In meeting with Minister Wardak and Minister Mohammadi, their interior minister, last week, there was a very clear demonstration of appreciation on their part for what Canada has done.
And so we're there partnering with our greatest ally, the United States. Working with our NATO allies, we're talking, you know, 40-plus countries that are still involved in this effort. It's a monumental effort. But when you consider where Afghanistan is today compared to just a few short years ago, security is, of course, the most critical piece. But when you look at the number of children now attending school, the number of children that have been immunized, the infrastructure investments, the long-term vision that all of these countries that we're working with and the Afghans themselves have demonstrated, to stabilize, to be in a position to ever, ever fall under the control of a terrorist organization like the Taliban, we have made enormous steps in that regard.
Do you know they have more women sitting in the parliament of Afghanistan today per capita than we have in our own country.
Women are not only participating in elections, they're being elected. They're participating in business and entrepreneurial ventures. There is commerce starting to take hold in the country. They're moving back to an agrarian society that exports more than just poppy that winds up in the form of drugs on the streets of North America. They're now growing beets and barley and pomegranate.
So none of that can happen without security. We're all very much seized with the importance of the continued training mission and the continued security-building, but there is -- there is great progress and positive progress to report in that country today.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.