I've just returned from my second international TDY as Secretary of Defense
- a whirlwind five day trip that took me to Israel, Egypt, Belgium and
Italy. Over the course of the week, I had the opportunity to consult with
key partners in a vital and fast-changing region of the world, reaffirm the
commitment of the United States to a strong and vital NATO alliance, and
visit with troops in Italy who have helped support the successful operations
It was an extraordinary few days that reinforced the importance of our
alliances and partnerships, and the need for continued American leadership
in the world. With this trip message, I wanted to share some of my
experiences with you, the men and women of the Department of Defense,
because it is your efforts that make it possible for us to build these
alliances and maintain America's global leadership.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is accompanied by Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak during an Israeli Defense Honor Cordon ceremony in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 3, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
The first stop on this trip was Israel, a key security partner in a very
volatile and important region of the world. I've traveled to Israel many
times before, including as Director of CIA and as a member of Congress.
Each time I visit, I'm deeply moved by the history and religious
significance of the surroundings. With only one day in the country and a
packed agenda full of meetings in three different cities, however, I had
little time to soak in the sights.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the West Bank, Oct. 3, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
It was very important for me to be able to go to Israel to reaffirm the
unshakeable commitment of the United States to the security of the Israeli
people, especially at a time of rapid change in the region. Of course,
Israel's long-term security would be greatly enhanced by a sustainable
comprehensive Middle East peace - and that was a focus of my discussions
with Israeli and Palestinian officials in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah.
In my conversations with Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, I
urged both sides to return to negotiations and told them that the United
States was prepared to do whatever we can to support them in this effort.
Although there remains a lot of work to be done to bring both sides
together, I'm hopeful that there is shared recognition that there is no
alternative to negotiations.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem, Israel, in remembrance of six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, Oct. 3, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
After completing my last meeting in Jerusalem, I had the opportunity to
visit Yad Vashem, Israeli's memorial to the six million victims of the
Holocaust. Yad Vashem stands as a monument to the extraordinary strength of
the Jewish people in overcoming tragedy to establish the State of Israel,
and it was an honor to be able to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony
there with the American ambassador, Dan Shapiro, and museum officials.
After taking part in that solemn observance, I wrote this note in the
official guest book: "This has been a very moving experience for me
personally. What we learn here commits all good people to work together to
ensure it never happens again. May God bless those who gave their lives so
we could live."
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta meets with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi at the Egyptian Ministry of Defense headquarters in Cairo, Oct. 4, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
After resting for the night in Tel Aviv, we left early the next morning and
took a 45 minute flight to Cairo, Egypt to visit another key security
partner in the region - a country that has been at the leading edge of the
democratic changes sweeping the Middle East. Cairo is an incredible city,
brimming with excitement - and lots and lots of traffic.
Given the extraordinary political transformation Egypt has undergone this
year, I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to have my first meeting with
my counterpart, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who is now overseeing
the country's political transition.
In my conversations with Field Marshal Tantawi, I expressed my desire to see
an orderly, peaceful and legitimate transition to a democratic system of
government. We also discussed our shared desire to maintain a strong
defense relationship, which is important for our ability to confront common
threats and ensure regional stability.
After my first meeting, I had the opportunity to participate in a
wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Tomb of
Anwar Sadat in central Cairo. It was a privilege to be able to lay a wreath
in honor of these two lives that were given to the cause of peace,
especially knowing that the people of Egypt are in the midst of their own
peaceful transition to a new and more hopeful future.
Following the ceremony, the Field Marshal graciously hosted me for lunch,
along with Prime Minister Sharaf and the American Ambassador, Anne
Patterson. Our hosts truly went out of the way to make me feel comfortable -
they served American cheesecake for dessert. After lunch, the Field Marshal
took me on a tour of the building where the banquet was held, and the two of
us even got to enjoy an impromptu game of bowling.
We couldn't play for very long, however, because I was already late to meet
with Major General Murad Muwafi, the Director of the Egyptian Intelligence
Directorate. In my last meeting of the day, I had a very good conversation
with Director Muwafi about how we could further cooperation against threats
to regional security.
All of my conversations left me very hopeful that, despite the violence of
the last few days, Egypt is trying to stay on the right path forward. I
believe Egypt's continuing effort to transition to democracy will send a
very strong, positive signal to the rest of the region about the
possibilities for peaceful, democratic change.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta delivers remarks at an event hosted by the Carnegie Europe Center, part of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at the Conrad Hotel in Brussels, Oct. 5, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
After wrapping up the day in Cairo, I flew to Brussels, Belgium to
participate in my first NATO meeting of Ministers of Defense. Even though I
had left the Middle East, the dynamic events in the region were not far from
my mind, as the NATO operation in Libya figured prominently in discussions
over the course of two days of meetings. Other important topics included
our shared effort in Afghanistan and our common challenge of building 21st
century military capabilities while facing growing budget constraints.
As a former member of Congress whose roots are in the legislative process, I
deeply appreciate forums where everyone can express their views and
ultimately try to find consensus, so I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to
participate in my first ministerial, and also to engage with a number of my
counterparts in bilateral sessions.
I began my visit in Brussels by delivering a speech to an audience at
Carnegie Europe, where I underscored the importance of the NATO alliance but
also pushed our European allies to shoulder more of the burden for common
defense. I also urged our allies to better coordinate defense spending
within the alliance, arguing that security in the 21st century will not be
achieved by each nation marching to its own drummer. I really believe that
the fiscal austerity our nations are facing and the pressure that these
budget constraints are putting on defense spending will make it all the more
essential that we have alliances like NATO.
"U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, right, announces a new strategic initiative with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, center, and Spanish President Jose Zapatero involving the basing of U.S. Navy Aegis destroyers at Rota, Spain, during a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Oct. 5, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
Later that day, I had the opportunity to reaffirm the commitment of the
United States to the Alliance by joining Spanish President Jose Zapatero and
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in announcing a decision to
base four Aegis ships at Rota Naval Base in Spain. These ships will further
bolster European missile defense capabilities against threats from Iran, and
represent a critical step in implementing NATO missile defense, as our
leaders agreed to do last year in Lisbon.
During my second day in Brussels, I participated in a meeting of ISAF troop
contributing nations to discuss the war in Afghanistan and review the
significant progress that we've made in NATO's largest effort. General John
Allen, Commander ISAF, presented a briefing of the situation, and it was
amazing to look around that room and see all the nations that have
contributed to this effort. In listening to my fellow ministers I was
really struck by their shared commitment to carry forward this mission and
to build on the significant progress that we've made. It was clear that no
one is rushing to the exits. To the contrary, there was a real commitment
by all to a long-term enduring relationship with Afghanistan.
Another session focused on the effort in Libya, which is nearing its
conclusion with the fall of the Qadhafi regime. This was a remarkable
achievement and there is no doubt that this alliance has emerged stronger as
a result of this effort.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta addresses U.S. troops on Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, Oct. 7, 2011. Panetta thanked the troops for their service and answered questions from service members. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
I was very eager to thank those involved in the Libya effort and hear
directly from them about their experiences, so at the end of the Brussels
ministerial I flew to Naples, Italy - the headquarters of Allied Joint
Forces Command. There was also a secondary but important goal to this
mission - reaffirming my heritage as the proud son of Italian immigrants and
getting more great food and wine.
Luckily, we arrived in Naples just in time to have dinner with Admiral Jim
Stavridis, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral Sam Locklear, the
Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, and Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe, the
Commander of the 6th Fleet. After braving traffic conditions reminiscent of
Cairo, we set out almost immediately from our hotel to a restaurant in the
shadow of the famed Castel dell'Ovo - a stunning medieval waterfront
fortress. It was a special opportunity for me to be able to share my native
cuisine with these fine military officers. Following my advice, we ordered
everything on the menu and enjoyed a family-style meal the proper Italian
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta stands in front of a RQ-4 Global Hawk as he thanks U.S. and international troops for their service at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, Oct. 7, 2011. Panetta thanked the troops for their service. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
The next morning, we headed over to Allied Joint Forces Command (also the
6th Fleet headquarters) to receive briefings on Operation Unified Protector
with top commanders from a number of countries that participated in the
effort. This was an opportunity for them to talk about what worked, what
areas needed improvement, and what lessons were learned. I thought the
sessions were extremely productive, and the consensus I came away with was
that NATO really proved itself in this mission. We were able to effectively
and quickly put together a complicated operation, and share the burden
across the alliance. And as a result of these efforts, the Libyan people are
free from a brutal dictator.
As the perfect capstone to the week-long trip, before leaving Italy I had
the opportunity to conduct two troop visits - the first in Naples with U.S.
personnel, and the second at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, with
coalition personnel who were flying missions over Libya. In both visits, I
expressed my strong support for the Libya mission and my deepest thanks for
the service of all who had gathered. In Sigonella, where around 4,000
sorties have been flown in the Libya mission, my visit on the flight line
was punctuated by fighter jets and Predator UAVs taking off - testament to
the power of our military alliances and the unceasing work of our military
across the world.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta addresses U.S. and international troops on Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, Oct. 7, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
From NAS Sigonella, I boarded the "Doomsday plane" for the 11
hour flight back to Washington. I came away from the week truly struck by
the power of our defense relationships, and by the desire of countries
across the Middle East and Europe to deepen their bonds of partnership with
our military. That desire is testament to the strength of the American
military, and to the outstanding quality of our all-volunteer force. I wish
that all of you, the men and women of the Department of Defense, could join
me on these TDYs to see the respect and admiration the world has for the
Your tireless efforts make clear that the United States will do everything
possible to help people secure the rights, freedoms, and opportunities that
are inherent for all people to achieve. We did this after World War II in
Europe, and we are working to help the people of the Middle East achieve
these aspirations today. And because of these efforts, we will help achieve
the goal of a safer and more secure world for our children.
Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense