SECRETARY LEON E. PANETTA: Good afternoon, everyone. Earlier today, I was pleased to welcome President Karzai to the Pentagon, along with his delegation from Afghanistan, including Minister of Defense Mohammadi.
I had a long -- I think it was about an hour-long -- one-on-one meeting with President Karzai. And we had the opportunity to discuss the ongoing transition to Afghan security lead, as well as, you know, the commitment of the United States to Afghanistan, the enduring commitment after the completion of the transition by the end of 2014.
I think it's fair to say that we made some very good progress on all of the key issues that we discussed. Our meeting, I believe, helped -- will help lay the groundwork for President Karzai's discussions tomorrow with President Obama on these and other topics.
President Karzai and I believe very strongly that General Allen's plan that was adopted in Chicago by NATO is working, and we're fully committed to finishing the job.
I also assured the president that my successor as secretary of defense will be equally committed to working with him and Minister Mohammadi on achieving the shared goal of a strong and independent and sovereign Afghanistan.
On that note, I again want to commend President Obama on his decision to nominate Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense. I've known Chuck a long time. I think he is the right person to lead the department at this time, not only because he's a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, but he understands Washington and understands the issues that confront our national defense.
And despite a lot of very severe budget pressures, which I'll speak to in a moment, we need to maintain -- and I believe he believes we need to maintain -- the world's most powerful and ready force to deal with the security challenges that we're going to confront in the 21st century.
This is a critical moment for this department and for our national defense. I believe that we have put in place a new defense strategy for the 21st century that we believe can meet our fiscal responsibilities to the country, that can confront any threat to our national interests, and that can maintain the strongest military power in the world to protect the American people.
We face, as you know, a number of adversaries around the world. But the most immediate threat to our ability to achieve our mission is fiscal uncertainty, not knowing what our budget will be, not knowing if our budget will be drastically cut, and not knowing whether the strategy that we've put in place can survive.
Let me be clear: This department is doing its part to help confront the nation's deficit problem. We have implemented in our budget plan the $487 billion in spending reductions that we were asked to -- to do by the Congress over the next decade.
And we can and we are doing this by virtue of the broader strategy we've put in place. We designed a strategy, we know what the elements of that strategy are, we built a budget based on that, and we achieved our savings by virtue of that strategy.
As I've said repeatedly, if we face additional meat-axe cuts as a result of sequestration, it will seriously threaten our ability to implement that strategy.
The fiscal cliff deal has delayed sequestration from taking effect until March 1st, but that's now less than 50 days away. While we appreciate the fact that both parties came together to delay sequester, the unfortunate thing is that sequester itself, and the sequester threat, was not removed. So the prospect of it happening again is undermining our ability to responsibly manage this department in the current fiscal year.
Indeed, we are seeing the formation of what I would call a perfect storm of budget uncertainty. With a sequester that could happen on March 1st, a continuing resolution that could simply be extended for the rest of this fiscal year, as opposed to having a defense appropriations bill adopted, and, thirdly, a debt ceiling crisis that could create even further turmoil that could impact on our budget and on our economy.
And the fact is, looking at all three of those, we have no idea what the hell's going to happen. All told, this uncertainty, if left unresolved by the Congress, will seriously harm our military readiness. And let me explain why.
First, the C.R. [continuing resolution] expires on March 27th. If Congress fails to pass the appropriations bill for FY 13 and simply extends the C.R. through the year, our overall operating accounts would decrease by about five percent below the proposed budget presented by the president for our 2013 budget. That amount roughly comes to about $11 billion that would come out of O&M [Operations and Maintenance]. An important part of our new defense strategy is to try to increase the operating accounts in order to maintain readiness, but the C.R. -- if it's just simply extended -- would really prevent us from doing that.
Secondly, if Congress fails to de-trigger sequestration and we have this massive half-trillion dollar cut that goes into effect on March 1st, we would have to cut in this fiscal year another nine percent, almost $18 billion, from O&M and these operating accounts, as well.
And lastly, to protect funding for the war in Afghanistan from these cuts, we have an obligation, obviously, to protect the warfighter and protect what -- what we're doing in the war in Afghanistan. We would have to, again, cut another five percent, another $11 billion, from readiness money available in the active-duty base budget, and more for the Army and for the Marine Corps.
So if you take the total sum of all these cuts, we're looking at 19 percent to 20 percent reduction in the base budget operating dollars for active units, including what looks like a cut of almost 30 percent for the Army. The net result would be some very sharp cutbacks in training for all units that are not deploying to Afghanistan. You know, we're going to try to protect not only the units that are in Afghanistan, but those that are about to deploy to Afghanistan.
But those that are not deploying to Afghanistan would obviously face some very serious cutbacks. It would mean reductions, obviously, in ship training, except for our highest priority units, reductions in flying hours, in pilot training, and ships would have to be pulled out of maintenance, and disruptions to almost every weapons modernization and research program.
For the civilian workforce, the cuts would require them to be subject to furlough, which would further harm our readiness and create hardship on them and their families. In a word -- in a word, we would be forced to do what I said we should not do with the defense budget, which is to hollow out the defense force of this nation.
To try, therefore, and better prepare for all of this uncertainty and this extraordinary budget uncertainty that we're confronting, the leadership of this department has decided that it must begin to take steps in the coming weeks that would reduce the potential damage that we would face should Congress fail to act to prevent the cuts that I talked about.
Regardless of what Congress does or fails to do, we still have an obligation to protect this country. So for that reason, I've asked the military services and the other components to immediately begin implementing prudent measures that will help mitigate our budget risk. For now, I've made clear that these actions must be reversible to the extent feasible and must minimize harmful effects on readiness. But we really have no choice but to prepare for the worst.
These actions should include having to curtail facility maintenance for non-mission-critical activities, freezing civilian hiring, delaying certain contract awards, along with other steps. In addition, I've directed components to develop more detailed plans for how they would implement sequestration if it's required, because there will be so little time to respond in the current fiscal year. I mean, we're almost halfway through the fiscal year.
This includes a plan to implement potential unpaid furloughs for our civilian personnel if sequestration is triggered. This action is strictly precautionary. I want to make that clear: It's precautionary. But I have an obligation to -- to let Congress know that we may have to do that, and I very much hope that we will not have to furlough anyone. But we've got to be prepared to do that if we face this situation.
The purpose of this intensive planning effort will be to ensure that our military is prepared to accomplish its core missions, including the ability to successfully deter aggression, if necessary. I want to emphasize, however, that no amount of planning, no amount of planning that we do can fully offset the harm that would result from sequestration, if that happens.
I understand -- I really do understand how difficult the politics are on Capitol Hill to confront and try to resolve this very serious fiscal crisis that this country is in. But all of us in Washington -- all of us in Washington have a responsibility to the American people to provide for our national security and to keep them safe.
So whatever the political differences, we cannot allow our brave men and women in uniform to be put at risk. They're fighting, and they're dying, and they're working every day to try to keep this nation safe. Those of us in Washington need to have the same courage as they do to do the right thing and try to protect the security of this country. We must ensure we have the resources we need to defend the nation and meet our commitments to the troops, to our civilian employees, and to their families, after more than a decade of war.
The simple fact -- the simple fact is that this fiscal uncertainty has become a very serious threat to our national security. And like any grave threat that we face, the American people expect and deserve action. Congress must pass a balanced deficit reduction plan, de-trigger sequester, and pass the appropriations bills for FY 13.
I'm committed to do whatever I can in the time I have remaining to try to work with the Congress to do what is necessary to resolve these issues. We have a vital mission to perform; one that the American people expect and that they are entitled to, which is to protect their safety and to protect our national security. Congress must be a partner in that mission. I'd love to be able to do this alone, but I can't.
GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY: Thanks, Mr. Secretary.
Like the secretary, I am very concerned that our elected leaders were unable to set aside sequestration during the last Congress. Postponing sequestration doesn't prevent it; it just prolongs the uncertainty for our force and for our military families.
As I've said before, sequestration is a self-inflicted wound on national security. It's an irresponsible way to manage our nation's defense. It cuts blindly, and it cuts bluntly. It compounds risk, and it compounds readiness -- compromises readiness. In fact, readiness is what's now in jeopardy. We're on the brink of creating a hollow force, the very thing we said we must avoid.
Due to the unprecedented convergence of the factors mentioned by the secretary, sequestration will hit while we're under a continuing resolution, while we're implementing the deep cuts already made in the Budget Control Act, and while we're still fighting a war in Afghanistan. Any one of these would be serious -- would be a serious challenge on its own. Together, they set the conditions for readiness to pass a tipping point as early as March.
We won't shortchange those in combat, and we'll continue to resource those who are next to deploy, as the secretary said. It would be unconscionable to do otherwise.
Likewise, we'll continue to care for our wounded warriors and their families. But for the rest of the force, operations, maintenance and training will be gutted. We'll ground aircraft, return ships to port, and sharply curtail training across the force. As the secretary mentioned, we may be forced to furlough civilians at the expense of maintenance and even health care. We'll be unable to reset the force following a decade of war. Our readiness will begin to erode. Within months, we'll be less prepared. Within a year, we'll be unprepared.
The crisis can and must be avoided, the sooner, the better. We need budget certainty; we need time to absorb the budget reductions; we need the flexibility to manage those reductions across the entire budget. We have none of these things right now. And without them, we have no choice but to steel ourselves for the consequences.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there's been quite a bit of talk lately about the number of troops that the U.S. may want to keep in Afghanistan after 2014. A couple of days ago, the White House came out and said that the president is open to the idea of -- of zero, of keeping no troops in Afghanistan after 2014. I'm wondering, given your description of the longer-term U.S. objectives in Afghanistan -- that is, counterterrorism and further training of Afghan forces -- is zero a realistic option?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, look, obviously, we want to accomplish the mission that we agreed to in Chicago. But, you know, as to what those numbers are, you know, we provided some assessments to the White House, but we have -- as of this moment -- not presented any of the options to the president, nor has the president made a decision. So, you know, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to sit here and kind of speculate as to, you know, what -- what somebody said or what is being speculated to in the press.
All I can tell you is that we have presented options to the White House. Ultimately, we'll have the opportunity to present those options to the president.
Q: But in this case, the White House has actually said itself that zero is -- is an option. I'm wondering whether you've given that some thought and whether General Dempsey has given that some thought as to how realistic that might be.
GEN. DEMPSEY: You know, we've said, I think, from the start that no option is entirely off the table. It'll depend on the conditions. I mean, look, we -- we react to requests to this -- a certain set of parameters. What's the mission? What's the requirement to protect the force while it's accomplishing that mission? Over what period of time?
And as the secretary said, we have provided options, not to the president yet, but to the national security staff. And I -- as you know, I would -- I don't speak about options until I've had a chance to speak to the president himself, so I'm not prepared to say any more than that.
Q: But have you considered that one particular option either of you?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I'm not prepared to say any more than that.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I've re-reading the -- your most recent report to Congress on Afghanistan. It's pretty grim reading. Basically, after 11 years, the insurgency is still strong, it can regenerate, can mount attacks, attacks are up, corruption throughout the force. The ANSF is clearly not ready to take over. How do you go to the American people and ask for yet another year, 18 months, or more of blood and treasure to pour into this war that kind of seems endless?
SEC. PANETTA: Look, we have poured a lot of blood and treasure in this war over the last 10 years. But the fact is that we have also made a lot of progress as a result of the sacrifices that have been made. And we're not going to walk backward from what has been accomplished.
We have seriously weakened the Taliban. You know, they do remain resilient. We know they're still out there. But we have been able to -- to take the battle to -- to the Taliban and prevent them from gaining any territory that they lost. And we're continuing to do that.
We are seeing an ANSF, an Afghan military, that is increasingly improving its ability to be operational. After all, we have now gone through a transition of areas that involve almost 75 percent of the population of Afghanistan. And those transitions are working. They're moving in the right direction. And it is the ANSF that's providing the primary security with regards to all of those areas.
In addition to that, we have -- and we will -- you know, we're -- we're moving, I think, the fourth tranche, and next [this] year we'll implement the final tranche in this transition.
So progress is being made. Progress is being made on the battlefield. Progress is being made with regards to, I think, the society in Afghanistan, the education. The health care of Afghans is improving. Is it everything we want? No. Is it everything that, you know, we would hope they would be able to achieve in this timeframe? Not yet.
But we are moving in the right direction. And I think over these next two years, we really have the opportunity to be able to put this in the right place to complete this mission. I think the Afghans view it that way. We view it that way. And we are not going to walk away from the sacrifices that have been made over these last 10 years.
Q: Is there hope of political reconciliation at this point still? Is there anything (off mic)
SEC. PANETTA: I think -- I think the stronger -- the stronger position we take in showing that we will -- we are going to continue to complete this mission, the better the chances we have to ultimately achieve political reconciliation.
Q: Mr. Secretary, can I ask -- is it possible to let us know -- during your discussion with President Karzai, one, whether he made it clear he would like American troops and other NATO troops to remain in his country after 2014 and, two, whether he's fully prepared to provide the immunity from prosecution, which was a problem in Iraq?
SEC. PANETTA: We -- we -- again, we had a very good discussion on all those issues. I don't want to, you know, prejudge what ultimately the president -- President Karzai and President Obama will -- will state with regards to the discussions.
But I will tell you this, that I was very satisfied with the discussions I had with President Karzai. He indicated a willingness to be able to do what -- what we believe is necessary in order for us to accomplish what we agreed to in Chicago. And that's what counts.
Q: A sequestration question for you, and then an ethics review for you, General Dempsey.
GENERAL DEMPSEY: Can we switch?
Q: Prudent measures you talked about, do they include also canceling fourth -- third and fourth quarter ship maintenance, aviation maintenance, and ground maintenance, curtailing travel, conferences, training, that's sort of mundane, but ongoing?
SEC. PANETTA: Yes. Yes.
Q: And is this an indication you're pretty much throwing in the towel, that you feel it's -- sequestration's going to happen?
SEC. PANETTA: No, I -- I'd like to believe that ultimately the Congress will do the right thing. But the problem is this, that, you know, I thought last year that sequestration was so nuts that -- that there wasn't a chance that it would happen and was told, frankly -- there was not a member of Congress that I talked to that didn't think that sequestration was the wrong thing and that it shouldn't happen.
But the longer they delayed dealing with it -- and the fact is, they then implemented a C.R. instead of, you know, resolving the appropriations issue. And now we are at -- you know, instead of dealing with sequester in the budget deal, they simply delayed it. And now we're facing it again in March 1st.
And, frankly, you know, I -- my fear in talking to members of Congress is that, you know, this issue may now be in a very difficult place, in terms of their willingness to confront what needs to be done to de-trigger sequester. And so for all of those reasons -- plus, as I said, the uncertainty of what'll happen on C.R., what could happen on the debt ceiling, if you put all of that together, we simply cannot sit back now and not be prepared for the worst. And that's what we're trying to do.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Can I contribute to that? Having been a service chief, it's the burn rate. So the way the mechanism of sequestration is established, we would have to absorb $52 billion of reductions whenever it starts. So if it started on 1 October, you absorb $52 billion over 12 months. If it starts in January, you absorb $52 billion over nine months. If you start on 1 March, you're absorbing $52 billion over six months or seven months. The burn rate is unsustainable, and we have to now take measures to prepare ourselves for that eventuality.
Go ahead. I'm --
SEC. PANETTA: Yeah, we're -- we're implementing -- I mean, the FY 13 budget, we're -- I mean, we're basically spending money pursuant to what we had in the FY 13 budget. And the fact is that, you know, what we're spending at this level -- and if we're required to do these cuts, suddenly we've got to achieve this level of savings. Where do we go?
We're going to protect the warfighter. We're going to protect those that are involved in Afghanistan. We're going to protect, you know, those areas that are -- we think are critical to our national defense. So where do you go? You go to readiness, you go to maintenance, you go to training. This is where cuts are ultimately made. And when that happens, it makes us less ready. I mean, that's -- that's really the bottom line.
Q: -- say it was $45 billion, not $52 billion. That's the older number, but --
GENERAL DEMPSEY: That is an old number. Actually, you're not correcting me, because I'm right.
Q: On -- on the ethics review, what were the broad conclusions you came to? Have the -- has the senior officer corps lost its way? That was in one of the comments in your memo triggering it.
GEN. DEMPSEY: First of all, you know, I hope you realize that this has been a passion of mine since -- since I actually did a thesis on the professions when I was a major at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. So the -- the decision to take this review is something that I found to be timely and also necessary after 10 years of war and 20 years since we've actually done this -- kind of a comprehensive review of our profession.
We're not done with conclusions yet. What I do want you to know is that the -- the secretary has allowed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to -- to seize the issue, to make it their own, to do their own assessment. We owe him a report. I think we'll -- in fact, I'm confident we'll find there are some things we can do ourselves that are within our own authority, but there will be some policy issues that will have to be passed to the secretary for his decision.
And if you're wondering where we are today, we've had several -- we call them tank sessions -- which are conferences. I've spoken with the retired general officers and flag officers, academics. I've -- we've kind of decided we're going to present the initiatives to be pursued in four bins -- training, education, support to senior leaders, and development. And the development might be the place where we find the most -- the big ideas, if you will, about what we need to do.
But we're -- we're working it, and we'll get something to the -- this secretary of defense before he -- if his successor is confirmed -- before he leaves the job.
Q: Mr. Secretary, first of all, on those immediate precautionary steps that you've ordered, reducing non-mission spending, the -- a freeze on civilian hiring and contract, what -- subcontracts -- is there a dollar amount on that, a kind of amount of money you'd be saving?
SEC. PANETTA: You know, we -- what I've asked all of the -- the services to do, and what I've asked our budget guy, is to look at all of these different pieces and tell me what -- you know, what -- what ultimately can we save by virtue of these steps? So I can't give you a number now.
But I -- but what I've said is, we've got to -- we've got to do everything we can to achieve whatever savings we can in the immediate future in order to be better prepared for what we may face.
Q: You know, you've got --
SEC. PANETTA: But, you know, I'll tell you right now, if you're looking at the kind of billions of dollars that we're looking at, you know, we're going to have to squeeze awfully hard to try to be able to -- you know, to -- to prevent, you know, all of -- any damage from taking place. We're going -- we're going to suffer some damage here.
GEN. DEMPSEY: By the way, could I -- could I -- because I want to -- back -- you know, this is sort of back to you, Tony. Why is it 52 and not 45? Sequestration was delayed by paying for it to be delayed, $2 billion this year, $4 billion next year. This wasn't, "Well, just delay it, and then we'll reduce it." We've already paid a price for it being delayed.
Q: And you personally -- you've got decades of service here in Washington, serving many administrations. And -- and even as the White House chief of staff, during some of the most contentious political times, as you well know, between the administration and Capitol Hill -- yet still the Clinton administration and Congress managed to get the nation's work done, even during that time. What's going on today? What's so different about the political atmosphere here in Washington today as to the time that you served, for example, in the White House?
SEC. PANETTA: You know, during the time that I worked in the Congress and served in the Congress, and was involved in past administrations, governing was good politics. If you governed the nation, if you solved the problems, if you took the risks that you have to take in order to deal with the challenges that were out there, in the end, we felt it was good politics.
When we dealt with Reagan as president, and when we dealt with Bush as president, it was a Democratic Congress. The speakers at the time really felt that if we could work out agreements with the president, that even though a Republican president would benefit, a Democratic Congress would benefit, as well, by governing the nation.
For whatever reason, that concept has been lost. And I think that there's an attitude that governing isn't necessarily good politics, that gridlock and confrontation is good politics. And I think we pay a price for that. And that's what's happening.
Q: Secretary, can you tell us a bit about your meeting with -- with your successor? I know you must have discussed some policy issues and transition. What are his -- there's been some reporting about his views on the Pentagon budget. Is he inclined for deeper cuts? Did he speak to you a bit about his -- his intentions?
SEC. PANETTA: We've had the opportunity to have lunch -- or, actually, we had dinner and talked about kind of just the -- the general issues that are confronting the Defense Department. And then we had a lunch that, frankly, specifically focused on the budget challenges that we're just describing to you.
And, you know, I think my impression is that, you know, he -- he understands the challenges. And, you know, I think I'm confident that he wants to do everything possible to try to deal with -- with the challenges we face. As to his specific feelings on different issues, I'll let him speak to that when he -- when he has his confirmation hearing.
Q: Just a follow-on, on that?
SEC. PANETTA: Sure.
Q: Just to follow on with Senator Hagel, one of the recent concerns coming out of the Hill are his positions on nuclear issues and his time out of office advocating for reductions. Is that a concern of yours that he's going to be able to implement the administration's current policy?
SEC. PANETTA: No, there's no question in my mind -- as I said, I've known Chuck Hagel for a long time. I think a lot of the criticisms that are being made right now are unfair, but he'll have the opportunity to speak to those when he goes on his confirmation hearing. And I think -- I think, you know, in these battles, in these confirmation battles, there are a lot of charges that will be out there. There will be a lot of criticisms that are out there. But ultimately, the truth prevails. And I think the truth in this case will -- will mean that he'll be confirmed.
Q: Mr. Panetta, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the meetings with the Afghans today. They've been concerned with long term getting more aircraft and other equipment for their military. There has been some reporting about ability to do that. Were you able to talk with them about that? Is there any more clarity about new aircraft or other equipment for them?
SEC. PANETTA: That was -- I mean, that was -- that was one of the discussions we made. And, again, I don't want to, you know, speak to what ultimately will be announced later, but I think it's fair to say that -- that we made very good progress on, you know, the kind of equipment that we would try to make available to them. And the fact that we -- we need to really develop a threat assessment working with them that will determine just exactly what they will need for the future.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Can I help you with that, if I could? Because I had a conversation -- I spent an hour yesterday with Minister of Defense Mohammadi, B.K. Mohammadi. And I've known him since I commanded CENTCOM, and he was actually the commander of their armed forces back in those days.
So, you know, I've done this kind of work in Saudi Arabia, in Iraq, done it for our United States Army, and I'm the chairman now. And what we talked about yesterday was, you know, let's move beyond a wish list of -- of equipment and start by discussing, what is your vision for the future of the Afghan military against threats and requirements? And he was very open, very eager to enter into that kind of comprehensive strategic review. And from that will come, it seems to us -- will come a view of how to move from where they are today, which is clearly focused on counterinsurgency, to something they may wish to become in the future.
Q: The last time that Israeli prime -- or Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in town, shortly thereafter, we started hearing concerns about Syrian chemical weapons and that sarin gas had been made in some form. And then about a week or so later, you were said -- you said that the -- the threat seemed to have been put on the backburner a bit. What is your view right now? Has it changed? And, General Dempsey, do you think there's anything militarily that the U.S. can do to stop the Syrians from using chemical weapons?
SEC. PANETTA: You know, I think -- I think right now the bigger concern that needs to be focused on is -- assuming Assad comes down -- and, you know, I think there's a stronger likelihood that -- that that could happen, how do we secure the CBW sites? What do we do to deal with that situation?
And that -- that is a discussion that we are having, not only with the Israelis, but with other countries in the region, to try to look at, you know, what steps need to be taken in order to make sure that these sites are secured and that they don't wind up in the wrong hands.
I -- I think the greater concern right now is, what steps does the international community take to make sure that, you know, when Assad comes down, that there is a process and a procedure to ensure that we get our hands on securing those sites? That -- that, I think, is the bigger challenge right now.
Q: U.S. ground troops, Mr. Secretary?
SEC. PANETTA: We're not talking about ground troops, but, I mean, obviously, you know, it depends on what kind of -- what happens in a transition. Is there a permissive atmosphere? Or is it a hostile atmosphere? And that'll tell you a lot.
Q: Mr. Secretary, along those lines, there was some talk about the Czech Republic being eager -- through NATO channels -- to help out with training, perhaps training the rebels in another country. Is that something that's being looked at?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, actually, the Czechs have a very capable -- we would call it in this country chemical, biological, nuclear elements, CBRN capability, by the way, built over time in collaboration with us as a NATO partner. And we are in contact with -- through NATO -- with partners who have that capability. We've done assessments of what it might take in -- against the various environments that the secretary mentioned. And we're engaged in -- in -- I told you, we're engaged in planning to develop options against alternative futures, you know, alternative future one, collaboration or cooperation, permissiveness, non-permissive, hostile, all of which would have different requirements.
Q: Is there any talk now or possibility of them training rebels?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I haven't heard -- that's not a request we've made of them. And I don't know -- I don't know that they would have gotten that request through some other channel.
Q: Mr. Secretary, did you just rule out putting in U.S. troops to secure Syrian chemical weapons?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, I mean, look, we -- we're not working on options that involve boots on the ground. You know, with -- you know, I think you -- you always have to keep the possibility that, if there is a peaceful transition and international organizations get involved, that they might ask for assistance in that situation. But in a hostile situation, we're not planning for that.
GEORGE LITTLE: Got time for one more.
Q: Mr. Chairman -- wait, just back to General Dempsey, I had asked whether there was militarily anything the U.S. could do to stop the Assad regime from using chemical weapons.
GEN. DEMPSEY: The -- the effort -- or the act of preventing the use of chemical weapons would be almost unachievable, Jennifer, because the -- you would have to have such clarity of intelligence, you know, persistent surveillance, you'd have to actually see it before it happened, and that's -- that's unlikely, to be sure.
On the other hand, you know, our collaboration with regional partners, Turkey, Israel -- I talked to my Lebanese counterpart yesterday, Jordan. We've got a planning element in Jordan. You know, messaging, such as our president did, that -- that the use of chemical weapons would -- those that would be responsible would be held accountable.
I think that Syria must understand by now that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. And to that extent, it provides a deterrent value. But preventing it, if they decide to use it, I think we would be reacting.
Q: And do you still believe that the sarin would expire after 60 days, after mixed?
GEN. DEMPSEY: That's what -- what the scientists tell us. I'd still be reluctant to handle it myself.
Q: Just one last question on -- on Afghanistan.
MR. LITTLE: This will be our last question.
Q: The State Department said again today that they plan to have -- keep open an embassy and four consulates in Afghanistan. In light of what happened in Benghazi, and after speaking with President Karzai today, what sort of U.S. military -- troops, equipment -- do you expect to have to provide to protect those American civilians who may be in Afghanistan post-2014?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, I mean, I -- as we -- as we always do around the world, if the State Department has requirements that they think are important in order to provide security, we'll do what we can to meet those requirements. And that would be the case in Afghanistan.
MR. LITTLE: Thank you all very much.
SEC. PANETTA: Okay.