Panetta: U.S. Military Best in World, But Threats Remain
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md., Jan. 20, 2012 The U.S. military is the world’s best and it’s on the right path to face the challenges ahead, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta speaks to military members and civilian workers at the Joint Strike Fighter hangar at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., Jan. 20, 2012. Panetta toured several facilities related to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is in its test phases at the base. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Speaking to a crowd of service members, civilians and local leaders at a town hall meeting, Panetta said the military “has to be able to make that turn as we head into the future.”
“We're at a point, as you know, where the Iraq mission was brought to an end, and it's now clearly up to the Iraqi people, to the Iraqi leaders to make sure they stay on the right track,” he said. “That was the whole point of the mission, was to make Iraq be able to govern and secure itself.”
The defense secretary also cited U.S., coalition and Afghan progress made in Afghanistan and NATO’s success in helping to topple a dictator in Libya.
“In Afghanistan, we are making good progress there in transitioning to Afghan control and security, and we remain committed to making sure that happens,” Panetta said. “In Libya, we had a successful NATO mission that helped bring down Gadhafi and return Libya to the Libyan people.”
Panetta noted the U.S. military has “significantly impacted” al-Qaida operations. Al-Qaida chieftain Osama bin Laden was killed in May 2011 in Pakistan by U.S. troops.
“Its leadership is decimated,” Panetta said of al-Qaida. “It doesn't have the ability to put command and control together to make the kind of plans for the kind of attacks we saw on 9/11.
“We have successfully gone after their leadership, and it's not just bin Laden, but a number of leaders,” he continued. “But we need to continue that pressure.
“We need to keep going after them wherever they go, whether it's Yemen or Somalia or North Africa,” he added. “We need to continue the pressure on them. But we are working to significantly weaken their capability. We've been good at it.”
The defense secretary noted that “we’re moving in the right direction” by virtue of the men and women in uniform doing “everything we've asked them to do.”
Panetta also said the current drawdown isn’t like previous drawdowns following World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War or the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“This isn't like drawdowns in the past … when the potential enemy or the enemy that we were confronting, you know, was disabled and in some way rendered ineffective,” he said. “We're still confronting a number of threats in the world.”
“We're still fighting a war in Afghanistan,” Panetta said. “We're facing threats from North Korea. We're facing threats from Iran. We continue to face threats from the proliferation of nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction.”
The defense secretary also noted threats from “rising powers” in Asia, continuing turmoil in the Middle East, and in the cyber world where “the battlefields of the future could very well be in cyber.”
“So at a time when we're at that turning point, at a time when we're facing the budget challenges that we're facing, we still have to be strong to confront the threats that we face in the world,” Panetta said. “And so that's been the challenge.”
After Congress mandated a reduction of $487 billion in the defense budget over the next 10 years, Panetta said he saw it as an “opportunity to shape the defense system we need for the future.”
“Number one, we are and have to remain, the strongest military in the world,” he said. “We are not going to back off from our position of being the strongest military. If we're going to confront those threats, if we're going to be a world leader, we have got to maintain our military power.”
Panetta was also adamant about not hollowing out the force which, he said, is a mistake “we’ve made in the past.”
“Every one of those drawdowns I talked about, there were cuts across the board,” he said. “They took big numbers, cut everything across the board, weakened everything across the board … we are not going to do that.”
The defense secretary noted he’d looked at every budget area where savings, efficiencies and balance can be achieved.
Despite current fiscal belt-tightening, the nation ““cannot break faith with those that have served, men and women who've deployed time and time and time again to the war zone, who've been promised and committed to certain benefits,” Panetta said.
“We have got to maintain faith with them,” he added, “at the same time that, obviously, we've got to deal with growing costs in the future."
The nation’s national defense strategy, Panetta added, always depends upon the quality of its service members.
“And thank God we have the very best fighting men and women in the world,” he said. “And thank God we have the American people that are supportive of making sure that we do everything possible to reach that American dream of giving our kids a better life.”