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Military Faces Transition Point, Panetta Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

EL PASO, Texas, Jan. 12, 2012 – The military is at a moment of transition brought about by the service and sacrifices of a generation of service members, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta greets base commanders as he arrives on Fort Bliss to visit troops and local dignitaries during a two-day stop near El Paso, Texas, Jan. 12, 2012. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The secretary thanked more than 800 of those service members while speaking to them in a Fort Bliss hangar about what the transition will mean for them and their families, and the nation. The way forward was charted by the defense strategy review that President Barack Obama announced last week at the Pentagon.

First, American forces have given Iraqis the gift of freedom, Panetta said, and with U.S. troops now out of Iraq, it is up to the Iraqis to move their country forward.

“In Afghanistan, 2011 was a pivotal year,” he continued. “We’ve seen the weakening of the Taliban. They were not able throughout 2011 to organize an attack to regain territory that they lost. For the first time in five years, the level of violence was down.”

Afghan army units are taking the fight to the enemy and security forces are gaining capability daily, the secretary said. More than half of the Afghan population now is under Afghan security force protection.

Terrorists remain a problem, Panetta said, but the United States has taken down Osama bin Laden and his ilk, and is making tremendous progress against terror allies.

“We have them on the run,” he said. “We have significantly weakened their capability to put together any type of operation or plan of attack that we saw on 9/11. We have kept the pressure up and the commitment up.”

That this military turning point comes at a time when America is facing budget pressures is no secret. “This country is facing a crisis it has to address,” and the Defense Department will do its part to save $489 billion over the next 10 years, Panetta said.

“We don’t have to choose between national security and fiscal security,” he said. “We can do this in a way that will give us a strong defense for the future.”

The secretary said he looks at this transition as an opportunity for the future.

First, he said, the United States will remain the strongest military power on the planet.

Second, “we cannot hollow out this force,” he said. The department must learn the lessons of past wars and draw down in a balanced and well-thought-out way. In the past, “cuts were made across the board and it weakened our military,” he said. “We cannot make the same mistakes.”

Threats remain for America including those of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, Iran, North Korea and turmoil in the Middle East, he said.

Third, all aspects of the department must be examined for savings and any moves forward must be tied to a strategy. “What is the defense system we want for the future?” he asked. “Then we need to base our decisions on that.”

Finally, Panetta’s guidance is that America cannot break faith with those who have served and their families. This means the current retirement system will remain in effect for those now in the military.

“We have made very clear that we will make no reforms for those who are serving now,” he said. “We will grandfather all benefits for those serving today. We made a promise to you on retirement and we will stick with it.”


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Leon E. Panetta

Related Sites:
Photo Essay: Panetta Visits Troops on Fort Bliss, Texas
Special Report: Travels With Panetta

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