SECRETARY LEON E. PANETTA: Good afternoon.
This is my first press briefing here at the Pentagon as secretary of defense, and let me begin by saying how important I think these briefings are and regular engagement with all of you.
And I intend to continue this on a regular basis, as did my predecessor, Bob Gates.
As you know, I've just completed my first month as secretary. And during that time I've had a chance to travel to the war zones to meet with the troops and the commanders there. I've had a chance to consult with a number of the ministers of defense and hosted four of my counterparts here at the Pentagon.
I've also begun visiting some of the key commands out there. I've visited NORTHCOM last Friday, and I'll be traveling to STRATCOM tomorrow and then to SOCOM on Monday. And I'll continue to do that on a regular basis. I've also had the privilege of visiting Walter Reed and meeting with our wounded warriors.
And finally, I have established, I think, a regular dialogue with congressional leaders up on the Hill and have built a very close working relationship with the service chiefs and the service secretaries and meet with them on a weekly basis.
I've been truly impressed with the expertise and the professionalism of the department's senior leaders, and I'm proud that we're going to build on this terrific team in the weeks ahead. We just announced yesterday -- the president announced that he will nominate Ash Carter to be my next deputy secretary of defense, and the Senate confirmed General Marty Dempsey and Admiral Sandy Winnefeld to be the next chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, along with some other folks that were approved. And I'm very pleased that the Senate was able to rapidly approve those nominations.
I've had the honor of administering the oath of office to Admiral Winnefeld this morning in my office.
These fine leaders give me a sense of confidence that we will continue to have a great team as we confront a lot of the challenges that will face this department and the nation as we lead our efforts to try to meet both our fiscal and our national security responsibilities.
That brings me to the debt-ceiling agreement that was enacted this week and its impact on our national defense. As I said in the message to DOD personnel that I issued yesterday, the reductions in the defense budget that were enacted as part of the debt-ceiling agreement are largely in line with the civilian and military leaders of this department -- what we were anticipating and preparing to implement.
Make no mistake about it: We will face some very tough challenges here as we try to meet those numbers. But those numbers are within the ballpark that we were discussing with both the president as well as with OMB. And we have the opportunity to make those decisions based on sound and balanced strategy and policy and with the best advice that we can get from our service chiefs and from the service secretaries on how to proceed to build a strong defense not only now, but in the future.
Thankfully, so far this is a very different process than has so often been used in the past when there have been defense draw downs, where defense cuts were applied across the board, and the force, as a result, was hollowed out. It was left undersized. It was underfunded relative to the missions and responsibilities that this country must fulfill.
And that approach would be particularly harmful because we are a nation at war. We face a broad and growing range of security threats and challenges that our military must be prepared to confront, from terrorist networks to rogue nations that are making efforts to obtain a nuclear capability, to dealing with rising powers that always look at us to determine whether or not we will, in fact, maintain a strong defense here and throughout the world.
It is that multitude of security challenges that makes me particularly concerned about the sequester mechanism that was contained in the debt-ceiling agreement.
This mechanism -- this kind of doomsday mechanism that was built into the agreement is designed so that it would only take effect if Congress fails to enact further measures to reduce the deficit. But if it happened -- and God willing, that would not be the case, but if it did happen, it would result in a further round of very dangerous cuts across the board, defense cuts that I believe would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our military's ability to protect the nation.
It is an outcome that would be completely unacceptable to me as secretary of defense, to the president and, I believe, to our nation's leaders. Most importantly, it would be unacceptable to the American people. The American people expect that our military will provide for their security. Rather they expect that we will always protect our core national security interests while meeting reasonable savings targets.
As I've said before, we do not have to choose between fiscal discipline and national security.
I recognize the resource limitations we face as a result of the size of the deficits that confront this country. But I also recognize the Department of Defense has responsibility to do its part in dealing with that, and we will do so. But we always have to remember those who are doing their part for the defense of this nation, our men and women in uniform and their families.
Throughout this process, I will be working closely with the leaders of this department, including the service chiefs, to ensure that we do not break faith with our troops and with their families. We have a volunteer force that is the heart and soul of our military strength, and we have to do everything possible to protect that volunteer force.
I have no higher responsibility as secretary of defense but to do everything I can to protect and support them. Every decision I make will be made with them in mind. They put their lives on the line. Too many have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of this country. We owe it to them to do this right and to do this responsibly.
ADM. MULLEN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I would only add that the chiefs and I fully agree with you. We have no issue with the military budgets being held to account in these challenging times or with the need to make tough program decisions moving forward. Indeed, we had long ago braced ourselves for a decrease in defense spending and have worked hard to ease some of that pressure by finding efficiencies where we can.
We are gratified that an agreement was struck to raise the debt ceiling, and we believe the terms of that deal are, at least in the near term, reasonable and fair with respect to future cuts. The cuts required by this agreement over the next 10 years are certainly in keeping with the president's previous budgetary direction, and we are already hard at work inside the comprehensive review process to find the requisite savings.
But we also, to a one, share your concerns about the devastating impact of further automatic cuts should the Congress fail to enact additional deficit-reduction measures. The Defense Department may represent 50 percent of the discretionary budget in this country, but there is nothing discretionary about the things we do every day for our fellow citizens. From the two wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the support we provide our NATO allies in Libya, from disaster relief missions like those in Haiti and Japan, to the training and exercises in joint combined operations we conduct around the world, the U.S. military remains a linchpin to defending our national interests. To loosen that pin unnecessarily through debilitating and capricious cuts -- nearly double to those already in the offing -- puts at grave risk not only our ability to accomplish the missions we have been assigned, but those we have yet to be assigned as well.
I just returned, as many of you know, from a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq, and I was struck by the degree to which the debt and the state of our economy preoccupied our troops. You probably saw the media coverage. There was hardly an engagement, large or small, that I conducted in which this issue was not raised.
On the one hand, I found it encouraging that the troops were informed and interested. On the other hand, I found it lamentable that they needed to be. Our men and women downrange have enough to worry about just getting the job done. They shouldn't also be concerned about whether or not they will be paid to do that job or whether or not their families will continue to get the support they need during long absences.
We can do better than that, as a military and as a nation.
As I have said many times, our growing debt remains the single biggest threat to our national security. The military exists to eliminate or mitigate security threats. So we will do our part in this regard, but we cannot allow that effort to go so far and cut so deep that it jeopardizes our ability to deal with the other very real and very serious threats we face around the world. And we cannot allow it to beak the all-volunteer force upon which -- whose backs we place the burden of national defense.
A balanced approach is what the chiefs and I seek, and sensible cuts are what we expect. We look forward to working with you, Mr. Secretary, as you lead the effort to make these difficult, critical decisions.
SEC. PANETTA: Yeah.
Q: Mr. Secretary, as you start now to look to look across a defense budget that's doubled over the past 10 years, where would you see the best opportunities for savings and on big programs among health care and all those other benefits?
And Mr. Chairman, do you think that these cuts, as they sort of progress, will affect the pace and the drawdown in Afghanistan as well as the number of troops and equipment and other resources that the U.S. can leave in Iraq for the -- beyond the end of the year?
SEC. PANETTA: You know, with regards to the first part of your question, we have -- and it's ongoing -- a comprehensive review to look at all areas of the -- of the defense budget.
And the service chiefs are looking at all of those areas and will ultimately make their recommendations as a part of this comprehensive review, which I look -- which my goal is to be able to use that comprehensive review to inform the decisions and strategies that we have to make. So that's going to be key to what decisions we make and what areas we look to for savings.
ADM. MULLEN: From the standpoint of the true presence, if you will, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and actually in other places around the world, I don't think there's a decision now that isn't going to take cost into consideration. We have to do that.
You said, Lita that our budget has doubled. A significant part of that, and rightfully so as far as I'm concerned, has been the investment in our people and our families over the course of the last 10 years because of what -- who they are and what we've asked them to do in fighting these two wars and the stress that they're under.
I would argue, with the strategic, comprehensive umbrella that the secretary described, that a balanced approach, looking at obviously our operational costs, looking at the investment in our people, as well as in programs -- and where the service chiefs are is recommending very strongly that we look at all these and, given the strategic approach, adjust accordingly.
All of that said, I have no expectation with -- from what I've seen from Secretary Panetta, certainly the president -- that we will send people in harm's way without the support they need and the resources necessarily to fund that support. And I expect that will continue, whatever the outcome is in Iraq or Afghanistan or somewhere else.
Q: I wanted to ask you, given that the comprehensive review isn't complete -- it's ongoing -- how can you make any of the claims you said today and yesterday about, one, that $400 billion can be implemented, or is fair and reasonable; and that the sequestration of $500 billion could cause great damage and very cataclysmic consequences when you don't have the backdrop or the analytical backdrop completed yet?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, we're not -- we're not sitting in the offices doing nothing at this point. What I'm basically doing is having a number of discussions with the service chiefs, with our budget people, with our policy people, to talk about all of the areas that need to be considered. And we are waiting, obviously, for the review itself as it goes through, but that's not stopping us from the ability to sit down and have discussions about how we would have to implement the savings requirement that we're facing.
Q: Just one follow-up on the review itself. Secretary Gates implied that the review would inform the public and Congress about the risks inherent in all the different approaches to cutting $400 billion. Do you intend to make this public at some point later this year so this debate on this review could take place?
SEC. PANETTA: I think the most important responsibility we have is to make public the recommendations we have with regards to our budget, and that will reflect some of the decisions and recommendations in the review. But I think what the American people are entitled to, and the Congress, and obviously the president, is a presentation of just what exactly our defense system will look like, not just today but in the next five and 10 years. And that will reflect a lot of the decisions that went into making the final recommendations to the country.
Let's go over here.
Q: Mr. Secretary, so is it fair to say that you are, at this point, drawing up contingency plans in case those sequestered cuts are triggered?
SEC. PANETTA: No, I'm not. I -- we're focused on the -- on the number that was part of the debt ceiling agreement, which, as I said, was very much within the ballpark number that we had worked out with the president and OMB. So you know, I feel pretty confident that that number is manageable and that we can achieve it in a way that will protect our national defense. I'm not even -- I'm not even beginning to consider what would happen with regards to sequestration. All I know is that from the review we've been doing for what we have to deal with in these numbers, that anything that doubles that would be disastrous to the defense budget.
Q: But then if that happens, will you be caught flat-footed?
SEC. PANETTA: No, I'm going to give Congress the opportunity to have this committee work. I think that's what we're all looking towards. You know, what -- I think -- I think the president and everyone who was part of the debt ceiling agreement really believe and hope is that this committee will exercise their responsibility to look at other areas of the budget other than just discretionary to come up with the kind of numbers that have to be part of a deficit reduction agreement.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I understand that the review itself is ongoing. But you've inherited, obviously, a military which has grown in size significantly, not just in terms of the budget but in terms of manpower since the start of the two wars. Do you think that you need a military that big? I mean, can you shed personnel? Irrespective of whether it's 400 [billion dollars] or 800 [billion dollars], can you shed personnel, since the wars are winding down?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, look, I'm not going to get into the particulars of what we will or will not decide here.
I think -- I think it's fair to say that the goal here is to design a defense system that will meet the threats not only of the future -- not only of the present but of the future.
There are three areas we absolutely have to protect. We have to protect our core national security interests, we've got to be able to provide the best military in the world, and we cannot break faith with the troops and their families. Those are the key elements that have to be part of what we decide.
ADM. MULLEN: Can I just add to that? The question presumes that we've dramatically increased our end strength. And actually the focus on end strength increase has been in our ground forces. And when you look at the increase in end strength in the Army and in the Marine Corps, both of which are currently -- even before this decision -- are currently starting to come down -- the Army's about 570,000 right now; they're programmed in the out years to come down to 520 [520,000]. The Marine Corps is at 202 [202,000], and they're programmed to come down some 15 [15,000] or 16,000. But in that same time, the Navy dropped its end strength by the total of about 50,000. The Air Force came down about 20,000.
So when you look at the totality of the end strength build-up given the challenges that we have, it has not been that significant, relatively speaking.
Q: Mr. Secretary, on your recent trip to Iraq you were quite emphatic in urging the Iraqis that if they decided they wanted American troops to stay beyond the deadline for withdrawal of all American forces at the end of the year, that they needed to make that request soon; yet this week Vice President Joe Biden is quoted in Atlantic Monthly as saying that deadline is already passed, it's too late, and that all American troops will be out by the end of the year.
Now, is that the case? And beyond that, is there a dispute within the administration about whether to keep American forces in Iraq beyond that withdrawal date if they ask?
SEC. PANETTA: I think everyone appreciates the comments that were made yesterday after the Talabani meeting in Iraq. And those comments and decisions are now being reviewed to determine what the next steps ought to be. One thing I can assure you is that we will always maintain a broad and long-term relationship with the Iraqi people, and that whatever decision we make with regards to our military presence will be done in that context.
Q: And just like you said you had contingencies to consider in looking forward with the budget, what sort of numbers are you thinking about in terms of how many American troops may need to stay in Iraq beyond that deadline?
SEC. PANETTA: You know that -- that has to be part of the process of discussing exactly where we need to go in the next steps between now and the end of the year. We have -- I think we appreciate the fact that they've made the decision to engage, and now the question is for us to engage and decide what that will look like.
Q: Yesterday a senior defense official sat here and said that in his opinion there should be no more cuts -- Pentagon budget cuts from the super committee. They should look to taxes and entitlements. Do you feel that's a realistic position?
SEC. PANETTA: You know, let me --
Q: (Off mic.)
SEC. PANETTA: Well, let me for a moment just put my old budget hat on. You cannot deal with the size deficits that this country is confronting by simply cutting the discretionary side of the budget.
That represents less than a third of the overall federal budget. You've got to -- as the president's made clear, if you're going to deal with those size deficits, you've got to look at the mandatory side of the budget, which is two-thirds of the federal budget, and you also have to look at revenues as part of that answer.
And while -- you know, while I'm commenting on that, let me just make a point on the discretionary budget. You know, we -- discretionary budget has taken some pretty serious cuts, both as a result of the continuing resolutions from last year as well as the decision that was just made in the debt agreement.
And you know, when you look at national security, I think you have to look at the broader context. National security is not just dependent on a defense budget. It's also dependent on the quality of life in this country, which involves the domestic side of the budget. It's also dependent on the State Department budget and their ability to conduct diplomacy abroad. All of those areas are contained in the discretionary side of the budget, and I think all of them represent, in a very real way, the security of this country. I would hope that the leadership in the Congress will take the time to look at the areas that they should be looking at if they're serious about dealing with the deficit.
Q: So what's the answer to that? So the answer is that there should be no
SEC. PANETTA: I -- yeah, I --
Q: -- deep cuts in the -- in the -- is that what you said?
SEC. PANETTA: We're already taking our share of the discretionary cuts as part of this debt-ceiling agreement, and those are going to be tough enough.
But I think anything beyond that would damage our national defense.
Q: Yes. Mr. Secretary, a recent analysis of Pentagon spending over the past 10 years found that DOD's spending more and getting less for it, and some of the things that are driving that are likely to continue. How will you be able to deal with that in the -- in your budget review, as you go forward?
SEC. PANETTA: Mike?
ADM. MULLEN: We, as you know --
SEC. PANETTA: -- (inaudible).
ADM. MULLEN: Yeah. I mean, as you know, certainly, in the course of the last couple of years, we've focused very heavily on the efficiencies aspect of who we are. That continues to be the case in terms of the review that's ongoing right now, underneath this iterative process of this comprehensive review, and we'll continue to do that -- to look at our staffs, to look at the overhead that exists here.
And we recognize that resources that are going there are not going to those that are out on point. I mean, there's a -- there's a trade. Or -- and we're also -- we also fully recognize that, you know, at some level, depending on where we take the cuts or what the cuts are, that force structure -- our force structure really comes into play very dramatically.
So that's why I talk about this balanced approach. I think programs that can't meet schedule, that can't meet cost -- their cost and schedule requirements are very much in jeopardy and will be very much under scrutiny, if you will, as we go forward.
I'm confident we can meet the targets that we've been given thus far. It is in that review that we've understood or we do understand if there -- if those -- if those cuts were to double, we've looked into that abyss, if you will, and we know that that is -- my view is -- the service chiefs' view is that's very dangerous for the country.
So all of us are looking at better ways to do this, more efficient ways to do this, while continuing to focus in stride on these national security requirements, the demands of which are still out there and will be in the future.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
SEC. PANETTA: Over here. (Inaudible.)
Q: -- you know, you've said that you hope sequestration wouldn't happen. But the military likes to say hope's not a strategy. You were both just, I think, unprecedentedly adamant. Sir, you said it would be unacceptable to you. And Mr. Chairman, you said you could not allow the cuts -- you and the chiefs could not allow the cuts to go so far and so deep as to risk national security. So with respect, the question is, if sequestration happens, just how unacceptable, sir? Do you feel at this point that you could continue in office?
SEC. PANETTA: (Chuckles.) I didn't think it was going to sequester me. (Laughs.)
Q: Well, I say this very seriously --
SEC. PANETTA: No, I --
Q: -- because, I mean, you both --
SEC. PANETTA: -- no, I hear --
Q: -- you have both laid some very serious cards on the table.
SEC. PANETTA: -- I hear what you're -- I hear what you're saying, but I -- you know, I didn't -- I didn't come into this job to quit, I came into this job to fight. And I -- you know, my intention is to fight to make sure that hopefully some common sense prevails here and that the committee that is established does its work in looking at these other areas of the budget.
And I also have to emphasize with them the dangers of sequestration and the impact that it would have on our national defense. So I think -- I think both Mike and I and others here have a responsibility to really educate the leadership on the Hill the -- of the dangers if they allowed sequestration to take place.
Look, you know, just for part of the record, I was involved in the conference on Gramm-Rudman. I know what sequestration's all about. And the fact was that at that time the decision was to use this tool as a way to force the right decisions. It hasn't worked. I don't think it will work. But it was the approach that was taken.
In the past, Congress made the decision not to proceed with Gramm-Rudman, not to proceed with sequester because the results would be so damaging. And so every time the trigger was about to take effect, it was postponed.
Q: May I just briefly follow up? Another unprecedented thing has been that twice now within a number of months, you have had to say -- before you came here, sir -- you have had to say to the troops basically you do not know if they would get paid.
I don't know that any of us can recall that happening. That has to be very difficult. How do you command in a war when the troops come to you time after time and they wonder, in this country, if they're getting a paycheck?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I tried to address that in some of my comments today. I think putting them in a position where they have to worry about this, and their families, is something we just have to make sure in the future -- in the future debates, doesn't occur. We have a significant number of our younger force -- of the younger part of our force who are married and who are living paycheck to paycheck. And that was the -- that was the source of the question the other day when I was in Afghanistan.
All of that said, throughout my career when pay starts being discussed, it comes to the top of the list for our troops. It always has. But I just don't think that we should put them in a position to have to ask that question.
SEC. PANETTA: Next, right here.
Q: Well, if I could talk about the threat picture for a second, if you're doing this review, tell us a little bit about how the threats as you perceive them to the country, the national security threats, will feed into this. Obviously, in your last job you worried a lot about that every day.
SEC. PANETTA: Yes.
Q: And when you were in Afghanistan, I think it was, on this recent trip, you had said that you thought al-Qaida, which has been a big focus over the last decade, was, at least at a strategic level, almost defeated; obviously there are offshoots. But what do you tell the American people, number one, the real threats out there to national security? And then how do you match that to what the defense budget should look like?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, it's -- I mean, that's -- you know, that's really -- the fundamental issues we have to deal with are to identify what those threats are and make sure that we're prepared to confront those threats. That's what national defense is all about.
And clearly, you know, terrorism and the terrorism networks still remain a threat out there. Even though we've badly damaged al-Qaida and their ability to conduct attacks in this country, the fact is that they still remain a threat. A threat coming out of Yemen, a threat coming out of Somalia and elsewhere. And that means that we have to continue the pressure to deal with the threat of al-Qaida.
In addition to that, as Mike mentioned, we've got two wars that we're still dealing with in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we have a responsibility to try to bring those wars to a stable conclusion, and that's what we're trying to do.
In addition to that, we have the threats that come from Iran and North Korea, and the need to continue to watch them closely, with the danger being that they could achieve some kind of nuclear capability.
And in addition to that, then the responsibility is, obviously, to be able to project our power in the world, in order to make sure that rising powers understand that the United States still has a strong defense. All of those areas are important national defense areas that we have to pay attention to.
Mike, I don't know if you want to add --
ADM. MULLEN: Sure --
Q: If I could just follow up on that, actually, if I could just, Secretary, in terms of Asian -- (inaudible) -- security, what level of -- what is your level of concern with North Korea and Chinese military expansion?
SEC. PANETTA: You just came -- Mike just came from China.
ADM. MULLEN: Yeah, I -- well, having just visited China recently, certainly both South Korea and Japan -- I think we're all concerned with continuing -- sustaining continued stability in the region. North Korea certainly has historically generated provocations, which included last year, where they killed 46 South Korean sailors, they killed three -- I think it was three South Korean marines. And the South Koreans basically have taken a very strong position. They're just -- they're not going to tolerate that any more.
South Korea is a tremendously strong, long-standing ally that we are very supportive of, and we continue to work with them to try to ensure that stability. And that's a lengthy discussion I had when I was in China with my counterpart. And there is concern throughout the region with the growth of China, the pace that they're growing their defense, the capabilities which in many cases are what we call anti- access: They'd like to see the United States stay out. And we're addressing those issues with China.
I'm delighted, quite frankly, that my counterpart came here and I was able to go there, and we could restart military-to-military -- not negotiations, sorry, relationship, so we can have these discussions, because there are going to be some other rough times. And I just hope we can sustain it -- those -- that relationship, and build on it over time.
But it's an area of great concern, certainly growing concern as China builds.
And what we speak to when we're talking to China is transparency. What's your strategy? Why are you building this? Typically the answer is defensive. We certainly see other capabilities that are not just defensive.
The unity of the countries in the region with respect to the South China Sea is very important. You've seen that. We need those disputes to be settled peacefully and, again, to support stability in the region. And that's what we're focused on.
SEC. PANETTA: In the back here. Go ahead.
Q: Thank you. Yeah, I would like to go back to the Iraq question. Could you give us more details about who will be in charge of the negotiations with the Iraqi government? Do you think that the training mission can last for more than two years -- the training mission can involve U.S. contractors without U.S. troops?
SEC. PANETTA: I think that obviously General Austin, who's heading our forces there, and the ambassador are going to be the ones that will be the primary interlocutors here.
Q: I have a question about a replacement for Ashton Carter. Some members of the procurement sector felt that he lacked enough industry experience to be an effective undersecretary. And how do you respond? And will his replacement come from an industry background?
SEC. PANETTA: You know, we're -- with regards to Ash, he's got a long and distinguished history in -- on defense issues. And just having worked with him in the time I've been here, but having worked with him in past capacities as well, you know I just find him to be someone who is serious-minded and very capable and a good manager, I think, for the department. And that's the primary interest that I have, is making sure the deputy understands this department and can help me manage this department.
And I think Ash will do an outstanding job at that.
With regards to his successor, I've obviously asked for a whole list of individuals that we think can replace him and that have an industry knowledge that I think is important to that job.
ADM. MULLEN: I would only add to that, as I've been in and out of acquisition a long time in my career, and I've watched Secretary Carter work inside acquisition for the course of the last couple years, and I've been incredibly impressed with how he focuses on programs. And he is a bright, capable guy to understand that. He's interacted, I think, exceptionally well with industry in that regard.
And his other focus has been on those things we need in the fight, and he's made a huge difference. And I think he will continue to do that should he be confirmed in this new assignment.
SEC. PANETTA: Go ahead.
Q: Mr. Secretary and Mr. Chairman, two questions on a war that hasn't been mentioned -- Libya.
One, Mr. Secretary, you've warned about allies essentially becoming exhausted in Libya. I'm wondering if you think there are more steps the U.S. ought to take in the near term to sort of break that stalemate.
And second, I think you have a request for additional U.S. Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance [ISR] from the NATO commander. I'm wondering if there's been a decision on that.
SEC. PANETTA: I'm not -- you know, I'm not going to comment right now on what additional steps we may be considering there.
With regards to working with our allies, I do believe that NATO has done a very good job at conducting the operations there in Libya. We've been working within the NATO context. We think they've made some pretty good progress.
The key there, obviously, is for the opposition to continue to exert itself to bring pressure on the regime.
The combination of NATO and the opposition, I think, has weakened the regime and given us a better opportunity to put diplomatic pressure on Gadhafi to step down.
ADM. MULLEN: David, I would say, on the ISR piece, I wouldn't comment on what combatant commanders are asking for or not in terms of operational requirements and try to leave with that, although I would say, with respect to ISR, there isn't a combatant commander that I know -- and I know them all -- that wouldn't like more.
SEC. PANETTA: (Chuckles.)
ADM. MULLEN: And so it's something that we look to, you know, adjudicate and apportion all the time.
WILSON: We have time for two more questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary.
SEC. PANETTA: Right here.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. About the alliance, especially NATO, ours is not the only country facing serious budget problems. Many of our European allies are facing them.
Can you talk a little bit about what you see the future of NATO being and what the future challenges are for NATO, considering how many of these countries are in tight financial times?
SEC. PANETTA: I think, you know, I -- Bob Gates, I think, made some excellent remarks with regards to the responsibility of the NATO countries to be able to put up their fair share in order to make sure that NATO remains strong.
I'm a believer in those partnerships. I really am. I think it isn't enough just for the United States to maintain a strong national defense. It's important that other countries work with us to assume the responsibilities that, you know, an increasingly difficult world is presenting, not just to us but to other nations throughout the world.
So my goal will be to try to do what I can to strengthen that partnership with NATO. And I think one of the keys is, we've got work on an approach that tries to develop some kind of resources for NATO so that it can be strong for the future.
I think -- I think it's important. I think it plays a very important role in terms of world security, but I think much more needs to be done to strengthen that partnership.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
SEC. PANETTA: Yes, sir?
Q: Thank you, sir. First of all -- (off mic) -- welcome and congratulations. My question, Mr. Secretary, you both have been in the area in the South Asia -- I mean, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan area, and (off mic) you have met all the officials there, inside and outside. Number one, attacks are growing inside Afghanistan, now they are targeting the high-level officials. And number two, what role do you think India will play in the future or is playing now as far as security in Afghanistan and the region is concerned?
SEC. PANETTA: Want to take a shot at that?
ADM. MULLEN: With respect to -- and this is just coming out of Afghanistan a couple days ago -- with respect to the threats growing in Afghanistan, clearly we had some expectation that they would move to these spectacular assassinations. And we don't -- we don't dismiss them. They are very serious threats in that regard.
The Taliban suffered pretty significantly last year. They no longer, in many places, own the battle space, so that we expect this will continue. And that's what they have moved to. And we're working hard to protect certainly our forces and also provide enhanced security for the -- for the senior Afghan officials which are targeted here.
And then -- and the second part of the question was?
Q: The second was that the U.S.-India is growing as far as security is --
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I mean -- as you know, I feel -- I have felt very strongly for a long time this is a regional issue. You talked about South Asia. It really is a South Asian and regional challenge that all countries have.
The United States has vital interests in the region. So do the countries that live there. And I think we all have to continue to work together to address these challenges or they're going to get worse.
And I'm actually encouraged very specifically with the discussions between Pakistan and India in recent weeks and months. And at least if I understand both governments, those are going to continue, and I -- and I hope that they do. And I consider those to be -- you know, that to be a very positive step.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEC. PANETTA: That's it? That's it.