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Panetta to Host Karzai, Barak at Pentagon

By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2013 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will meet separately this week with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Pentagon Press Secretary George E. Little told reporters today, adding that the war in Afghanistan and the conflict in Syria remain key issues on Panetta’s agenda as he enters what are expected to be his final weeks in office.

Karzai will be given full military honors when he visits the Pentagon Jan. 10 for what Little said will be discussions on a broad range of issues concerning Afghanistan’s future.

In particular, Little said, the visit will be “an opportunity to discuss the ongoing transition to the Afghan security lead and our enduring commitment to Afghanistan following the completion of transition at the end of 2014,” when the U.S-led NATO mission in Afghanistan is set to conclude.

While no announcements have been made about U.S. troop levels after that date, Obama and Karzai signed an agreement in May which, after more than a decade of war, called for an enduring strategic partnership, with U.S forces continuing to train Afghan security forces and conducting counterterror operations.

“It’s not just about troop numbers in Afghanistan, it’s also about a bilateral security agreement, progress on the peace process and a range of other issues and we think there will be a very productive discussion,” Little said.

Panetta will accompany Karzai on a tour of the 9/11 Memorial, built adjacent to the Pentagon to remember the 184 people who lost their lives when al-Qaida terrorists flew a jet into the nation’s defense headquarters.

Karzai will meet with Obama at the White House on Jan. 11.

Tomorrow, Panetta will host Israeli Defense Minister Barak. Little characterized the meeting as another in a series of regular consultations, adding that discussion would include the civil war in Syria.

Officials from both Israel and the United States have expressed concerns about the Syrian government’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. The United States repeatedly has warned President Bashar Assad’s government that their use would be unacceptable. Israeli leaders have voiced concern such munitions could fall into the hands of Islamic militants and threaten the country’s northern border.

Syria’s neighbor Turkey, which has been supporting opponents of the Assad regime, requested and received NATO support for the installation of six Patriot missile batteries intended to bolster the country’s defense against a possible Syrian attack. Little said roughly half of the 400 U.S. troops attached to the Patriot batteries are now in Turkey and that all equipment and personnel should be in place by the end of the month.

“This is a mission that is slated for up to a year,” he said, “and we’re going to continue to monitor the situation in Syria.”

The announcement of the Pentagon visits by Karzai and Barak came as Panetta prepares to transition out of his role as defense secretary, and a day after Obama nominated former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to replace him.

Little said Panetta will remain defense chief until his successor is confirmed by the Senate and sworn in. A joint DOD civilian-military transition team will begin providing Hagel with briefings on defense-related issues as he prepares for the confirmation process, he added. 

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