SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA: Good afternoon. Since General Dempsey just returned from the war front, we thought it would be worth making some comments on Afghanistan. And then, I'll invite General Dempsey to share his perspective as well.
Last week, as you know, we completed the drawdown of 33,000 surge forces that the president ordered to Afghanistan in December of 2009. As I said in announcing this milestone last week, it is clear that the surge allowed us to turn a very important corner in 2011. It accomplished the primary objectives of reversing the Taliban's momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increased the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces.
To fully understand the impact of the surge, I think it's a good thing to remind ourselves where things stood in mid-2009. At that time, the momentum was clearly on the side of the Taliban. The insurgency was steadily retaking key parts of Afghanistan. Any time that the -- that our forces would clear an area and then leave, it was immediately taken back by the Taliban.
There were -- there were no areas that were transitioned, mainly because the Afghan national security forces were not capable to provide security on their own or counter the Taliban.
And the result was that Afghanistan faced the real prospect that the Taliban would take over large parts of the country, which ultimately would have strengthened Al Qaida's hand and provided it again with a safe haven from which to attack -- from which to plan attacks on our homeland.
In short, in mid-2009, I think there was a real risk that the mission in Afghanistan might very well fail. Thanks to the efforts of U.S. and Afghan forces and our ISAF partners, I think the situation today is considerably different and improved.
The Taliban's gains on the battlefield have been reversed. They've been unable to regain any of the territory that they've lost. Violence levels in populated areas have decreased significantly. Al Qaida has been denied safe haven, and obviously its leadership has been decimated. The Afghan national security forces have become more capable and expanded dramatically, growing from roughly 150,000 in November 2008 to more than 330,000 today, with the goal of going to 352,000 very soon.
Most notably, we have begun the transition to Afghan security and responsibility. And we've moved decisively toward an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself. And that is the fundamental mission that we've sought to accomplish.
With the announcement of the third tranche of transition earlier this year, more than 75 percent of the Afghan population lives in areas that are undergoing or entering the transition process. Under the leadership of General Allen, NATO agreed in Chicago to a plan that he designed that has been put in place, and we remain very much on track with that plan to complete the transition by the end of 2014. And I think there is strong international support in order to accomplish that effort.
Having said all of that, I also want to make clear that even as we recognize these many positive trends, that we cannot and will not ignore the significant challenges that remain. The enemy we are dealing with, as we have said before, is adaptive and resilient. Their focus has shifted to carrying out high-profile attacks in order to undermine the new sense of security that has been felt by ordinary Afghans.
There has also been a very troubling rise, as we all know, in insider attacks. And the purpose of those insider attacks has been to target the very trust that we need between ISAF and Afghan forces. That trust is critical to completing this transition. I expect that there will be more of these high-profile attacks and that the enemy will do whatever they can to try and break our will using this kind of tactic. That will not happen.
In response to these attacks, throughout this past year General Allen has taken steps, along with Afghan leaders, the Afghan army, ISAF, to protect our forces, to protect the Afghan people, and to ensure that our strategy remains on track. Most recently, during the heightened tension over the inflammatory video on the Internet, this included making temporary adjustments on partnered operations between ISAF and Afghan forces taking place below the battalion level. I can now report to you that most ISAF units have returned to their normal partnered options at all levels.
We must and we will take whatever steps are necessary to protect our forces. But I also want to underscore that we remain fully committed to our strategy of transitioning to Afghan security control. The ANSF remains, as General Allen has called it, the defeat mechanism of the insurgency.
As the president has made clear, we have an enduring commitment to an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself and that is never again a safe haven from which terrorists can attack us. Our men and women in uniform are fighting forces -- ISAF, Afghanistan fighting forces -- I think have sent a strong message to the Taliban that time is not on their side. As I've said before, this is a war and it is a war that will continue to demand perseverance on the part of the American people, on the part of the Afghan people, and on the part of the international community.
But as we look at the challenges that remain for us to overcome in the coming months, I think we can take heart in how much our forces have accomplished over these past three years. I can tell you, based on my first-hand observations from going to the war front, and I think General Dempsey can say the same, that our troops are justly proud of what they have accomplished, and we certainly are proud of them.
Because of their continuing sacrifices and with the continued dedication and commitment of the American people, I believe that we can prevail in this war.
GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY: Thanks, Mr. Secretary.
I actually returned from Afghanistan just yesterday. While there, I visited our troops in Kandahar and in Helmand province. I walked the ground at Camp Bastion where the enemy last week broke through our perimeter, where two Marines fell while racing to the sound of the guns, and where I was reminded once again that our servicemen and -women are courageous to the core.
I also met with coalition and Afghan leaders, and I'll tell you this. The Afghan forces are not only gaining capability, but they're also importantly gaining confidence. They are fighters. With our continued assistance, I see them getting stronger while the Taliban gets weaker. I'll also tell you that our Afghan partners are working with us to shut down the threat of insider attacks. As one Afghan army commander told me, insider attacks are an affront to their honor, at odds with their culture and their faith.
As for us, we are adapting to changes in that threat as well. That's what professional militaries do. And we are doing it in a way that ensures we continue to be able to partner. The Taliban is clearly trying to split us apart, but it won't work. They're working to weaken the coalition and that won't work either.
In fact, I met with my 27 fellow NATO chiefs of defense the week before last in Romania. General Allen's campaign update to that group was met with one thing: resolve. "In together, out together" -- it's more than just a motto. It's our oath.
I'd be happy to take your questions.
Q: Yes, Mr. Chairman, since you just got back, you may be best able to answer this question. Specifically, the secretary said most units are back to partnering. Prior to these new restrictions, about 90 percent of all units -- 90 percent of all missions were partnered.
What percentage of the missions are partnered now? And how -- how much did it drop off?
And you said about a week and a half ago that these insider attacks were a serious threat and that something had to change. What specifically, if anything, has changed? What -- and what other changes do you need to see? Will this approval process have to continue indefinitely even as more partnering ramps up?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, first of all, John Allen's order that was sent out by the IGC didn't at that level restrict anything. It told subordinate commanders to assess their own situation in their own part of Afghanistan, and they did that.
I would suggest to you that what they did in that -- as part of that was buy themselves some time in order to determine whether we had to make any internal changes. That could be something as simple as reinforcing standards and discipline to adding potentially to the Guardian Angel program, or whatever it happens to be.
But that was all done, you know, it seems to me at the right level. It wasn't done at this level. It wasn't done at General Allen's level. It was done down where the boot meets the ground.
And then the other piece of it that had to change was -- you know, I think we've all said this quite clearly, that we needed buy-in from our Afghan partners to take this threat as seriously as we did.
What I'm telling you now that I've returned from visiting there personally, meeting the new minister of defense, the new minister of interior, two corps commanders, I can tell you without hesitation they are taking this as seriously as we are and taking active measures to help us and them defeat this threat. And by the way, this is a threat not only to us, it's not just blue on green, it's green on green on occasion, in fact, often as well.
So I came back with a renewed sense that we can lower the risk of the insider threat.
Q: But do you have the percentages, the numbers again?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I don't have them committed to memory, but if -- if, as you say, if you -- if you say a week ago we were reporting 90 percent, then I'm quite confident we're back to that level.
Q: Mr. Secretary, while we have both of you here, I wonder if you could square for us your different reactions to insider attacks. You called it the last gasp effort of the Taliban. You called it a very serious threat to the campaign. Which is it?
SEC. PANETTA: A serious last gasp effort.
GEN. DEMPSEY: I mean, honestly, I never thought then and I don't think now we were speaking past each other. I mean, there's any number of ways to describe this threat. It is a very serious threat. And as far as why the Taliban is doing it, I mentioned in my opening remarks, is that they're trying to split the coalition by having it lose confidence in itself and...
Q: But do you see this as the last gasp?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, look, it's -- as I said, I think, the effort here has made clear that time is not on their side, that we have been able to achieve a great deal of the missions that, you know, we're after here. We did turn a very important corner. We are transitioning areas. Violence is down. The Afghan army is obviously much better at providing security and conducting operations.
So, you know, we are -- we are moving in the right direction. We're moving on the right track. And the Taliban has had less and less ability to be able to fight back and be able to get back the territories that have been lost.
So I think this is part of, similar to IEDs, it is their effort to try to create the kind of high-profile attacks that, while they don't gain them anything, basically try to break our will. That's what this is about. And I think when an enemy reaches that point, you know, it's near -- it's near the end of their effort to really fully fight back and try to regain the areas that have been lost.
Q: But IEDs weren't a last gasp. They were just a new tactic. Why isn't this just a new tactic in...
SEC. PANETTA: Well, it is -- it is a new tactic, and I think it reflects a tactic that indicates that they are unable to get back the territories that they have lost. That's what it reflects. You know, whether -- look, whether or not, you know, it is -- it's the end of their bag of tactics to come at us I think is still an open question.
Q: Will we hear from you as fully about your sense of Benghazi right now? And a couple of specifics I want to ask you.
Was there ever any discussion, after the Benghazi attack, of putting Marines at the compound in Benghazi to help secure it? And what is your assessment and analysis of Al Qaida and Al Qaida affiliates or inspired organizations there, their ability to assemble and generate an attack capability of this sort very rapidly and for the United States to openly have no sense that it needed to provide the security to meet that potential threat? What does it say to you about Al Qaida-related groups in that region?
SEC. PANETTA: Okay. First of all, with regards to Benghazi, what we -- what we responded to was a request to provide a FAST team [Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team]that would go into Tripoli and try to provide additional security there, and we responded to that and did that.
At that point, for all intents and purposes, Benghazi had been, you know, pretty much unoccupied by any of the -- of the diplomatic and other security personnel that were there. So the main focus then was on Tripoli and the embassy in Tripoli, and that's what we responded to.
With regards to Al Qaida and, you know, its -- its efforts in that area, I mean think it's fair to say that Al Qaida, you know, continues, as I've indicated to try to pursue its efforts in that part of the world. We've been going after them in Yemen. We've been going after them in Somalia. We've been going after them in North Africa. And that, because they continue to be a threat in those areas.
And, you know, again, they continue to operate in different ways as well in other parts of Africa.
As to specifically whether they were or were not involved with regards to the attack in Benghazi, I think that remains for the investigation to determine.
Q: But the fact -- the fact is that administration officials are now calling this a terrorist attack...
SEC. PANETTA: It was a terrorist attack.
Q: Why do you say that? What -- what -- why do you come to that conclusion? And if it was in fact a successful terrorist attack against a U.S. installation, against the United States, what does it say to you now the surprise that Al Qaida or these groups, these militants were able to enact against the United States?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, I mean, the reason -- I think it pretty clearly was a terrorist attack is because a group of terrorists obviously conducted that attack on the consulate and against our individuals. What terrorists were involved I think still remains to be determined by the investigation. But it clearly was a group of terrorists who conducted that attack against that facility.
And, you know, we, as a country, we have ourselves been the target of a terrorist attack, and I think we have made clear that as a result of that we're going to continue to go after those that would attack our individuals. And I think that remains the case here as well. We are not going to let people who deliberately attack and kill our people get away with it.
Q: Also on Benghazi, Mr. Secretary, when did you come -- when did you come to the conclusion that what had happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack?
And, Mr. Chairman, did the Joint Staff or the DIA provide any warning to the State Department ahead of the attack that there were increasing security concerns in Benghazi?
And to that, the FBI says it's too dangerous to be in Benghazi, which is why none of them are there now. Is that because the situation has worsened or was it always that dangerous in Benghazi?
SEC. PANETTA: I think, on the terrorist attack, I mean, as we determined the details of what took place there, and how that attack took place, that it became clear that there were terrorists who had planned that attack, and that's when I came to that conclusion.
As, again, as to who was involved, what specific groups were involved, I think the investigation that is ongoing hopefully will determine that.
Q: Was that a day after or was it days...
SEC. PANETTA: Yeah, it took a while to really get some of the feedback from what exactly happened at that location.
GEN. DEMPSEY: There was a thread of intelligence reporting that groups in the environment in western -- correction -- eastern Libya were seeking to coalesce, but there wasn't anything specific and certainly not a specific threat to the consulate that I'm aware of.
And, as far as to the risks that the FBI reported, you'd really have to ask them for why they made that determination. I don't know.
Q: Was that thread of intelligence made -- did you make the State Department aware of the intelligence? Were they aware of what you knew?
GEN. DEMPSEY: The intelligence that we get is -- that we all get -- is broadly shared among intelligence agencies and all interagency partners.
Q: I wanted to go back to Afghanistan briefly. Is it both of your personal belief that the Taliban is responsible for many or most of the insider attacks at this point? And General Dempsey, when you were there, did you order or advise General Allen to resume the partnering effort?
And related to that, do you think the Taliban effort, given what we've seen from the reports about people staying in body armor and this temporary stand-down on partnering, is the Taliban succeeding in driving a wedge between the ANSF and the -- and ISAF?
GEN. DEMPSEY: As for what percentage of the insider threat is related to infiltration or radicalization, I mean, it's really -- it's really difficult to determine. Generally speaking we lose access to these individuals either because they're killed or they escape.
I'm sure a certain percentage of it is. And we're treating it, I mean, in order to address it you've got to treat it as -- as a threat. So we continue -- General Allen's got a team that after every one of these things goes to the site and then does the forensics, if you will, to try to make that determination. And then we -- based on what we learn, we -- we adapt.
I didn't go there to order General Allen to do anything. I went there to get his assessment of the situation and get a sense for whether our campaign objectives were still valid; whether our campaign plan was -- was still on track. And I came back -- again, I've said this publicly, you know, we are -- we are committed, resolved to those objectives as outlined in Lisbon and then reinforced in Chicago.
But I think anybody that thinks it will be a straight line between here and there is probably not thinking about it the right way. And I have great confidence and trust, as the secretary does, in General Allen and those on the ground to make the adaptations necessary to achieve those objectives.
Q: I have a couple of different questions for General Dempsey. August 30th in London you said you didn't want to be complicit in a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran. You're a wordsmith so you use your words carefully. "Complicit" normally implies an accomplice or partner in a questionable act or crime. So I wanted you to elaborate -- explain that if you could.
Then a separate one from the secretary.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, sure. Yeah, the Oxford English Dictionary.
Yeah, you know, I think we've all questioned -- many of us have questioned whether the timing was necessarily -- the timing is necessarily right. I think the path we're on to convince Iran to forego its desire for a nuclear weapon, if they -- you know, you've heard us say we're not sure they've even made that decision.
So, yeah, "questionable" is -- is the sense of the word in which I used it. But the context is important because I was asked the question about why I wasn't doing more to protect our forces in the gulf in the event that Israel made a decision. And my answer was really intended to portray that I don't feel like I have any place in trying to affect the sovereign decisions of any nation, including our closest partners. So that -- there was a context gap there.
Q: Mr. Secretary, last week the deputy program manager of the Joint Strike Fighter, the largest program in Pentagon history, said the relationship with Lockheed, the number one contractor, is the worst he's ever seen. This is 11 years into a program that's $75 billion has been spent to date.
At your level, do you agree with that assessment? And how could that happen, relations are so bad with the number one contractor on the number one program in the Pentagon's inventory?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, I -- I don't know that I would portray it in those terms. I think it's -- these are difficult negotiations, as they always are when you're dealing with, you know, with the amount of money and the complexity that's involved with -- with the Joint Strike Fighter.
And so there are tough negotiations going on. But I -- I'm confident that both parties, as we know from -- from just the nature of these kinds of negotiations -- that both parties are going to ultimately reach a solution here. I -- I'm not -- I'm not convinced that this has reached a point where, you know, we've -- we've dead- ended in terms of our ability to find a way out.
I think both of us understand that the Joint Strike Fighter is important. It's important to our security. It's important to the companies that are involved here. And I think ultimately it will be resolved.
Q: Not to put words in your mouth, but you don't agree with the notion, then, expressed by the program manager -- deputy program manager that relations between the company, the program office and the stakeholders is the worst he's ever seen. You don't share that?
SEC. PANETTA: I -- well, I don't share it, number one, because I mean, I don't know the history of just how much has gone on in the past. But at least from what I have seen at this point, my view of it is these are very tough negotiations, but they aren't a reflection that either side has given up or thinks that the other side, you know, is in a more difficult state at all.
I think -- I think this is going to -- we'll get through this.
Q: Two quick clarifications. You said earlier that most partnered operations have resumed, but then I thought the chairman had said that they all had resumed. So what percentage of partnered operations are still on hold or have they all resumed?
And then -- and then to the chairman if you could just clarify -- if you could clarify, actually, Mr. Secretary, whether or not -- you said before you didn't know which specific groups of people were involved in the Benghazi attack. But is it fair to say at this point that they are either Al Qaida or Al Qaida-linked?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Let me take the resumption question, because, you know, as I travel to visit leaders at every level, they, you know, they're in a -- they all have made adjustments. And as they have made the adjustments, they have restored, I guess, the level of engagement. The reason it's pretty hard to pin down at any given time is the campaign is always adapting. So as you know, we had a system where we were partnering. Then we moved to security force assistance teams, but they were built on the back of existing structures. And now as I sit here, we're flowing forces into theater that are built purposefully for security force assistance.
So, you know, the -- the relationship is always in flux, if you will. As I said a moment ago, when I left Afghanistan, the leaders I had spoken to had resumed operations as they had been previously organized. So it was my assessment coming back that the -- that the command had kind of restored to its previous norm, but it's changing all the time.
And as units don't any longer need security force assistance teams, they're moved elsewhere. I mean, you know, this is a matter of gauging progress, gauging confidence, capability and making adjustments.
Q: So you're saying they're all resumed, they're back to normal?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yes, as far as I know, sitting here in Washington, 8,000 miles away.
SEC. PANETTA: You know, on the question of, you know, were they -- were they involved with Al Qaida -- involved here or not, I really think that is a matter for the investigation to determine. You know, as we all know, there's a lot of different forms of terrorism in that part of the world. There's a lot of terrorism that's home grown. And, you know, I think -- I think it's really important before we come to any firm conclusions to give the investigators the opportunity to determine exactly who was involved in the -- in the attack that took place.
Q: This week, the Emir of Qatar has asked the international community for a military intervention in Syria. What's your comment on that? And I would like to know if you agree with them.
And Mr. Chairman, you met today with the Saudi chief of staff. Could you tell us what was the meeting about? And do you feel -- do you think that the Saudis are concerned about the implication of the Syrian conflict on the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] area?
SEC. PANETTA: Who made the comment about military intervention?
Q: The Emir of Qatar.
SEC. PANETTA: Okay. You know, I think it's -- it's pretty clear that -- that at this point, the most effective thing that the international community can do is to continue to bring both diplomatic and economic pressure on Assad to step down. We are, you know, we're addressing obviously a number of the concerns there. We are doing what we can with regards to the humanitarian crisis and trying to provide and meet the humanitarian needs that are increasing.
We continue to monitor the CBW sites which concern us and others in the region to make sure that they continue to be secure. And we provide -- we are providing assistance to the opposition and trying to make sure that -- that they are getting the kind of assistance that can help them in their cause.
I think those are the most effective ways to deal with that. Direct intervention by the United States, I think both General Dempsey and I have said, would be a serious mistake for the United States to embark on that kind of intervention on our own. If the international community decides that that's a step that the international community would like to move forward, then obviously we would be part of that. But absent that kind of broad support, I think for the United States to do it would be a mistake.
GEN. DEMPSEY: And on the counterpart -- the counterpart visit, my counterpart from Saudi Arabia, we talked -- we did, of course, walk around the region. And their concern with Syria is really based on what they assess as Iranian influence, which they also assess to be a factor to their south in Yemen. So they're concerned about Iranian influence both in Syria and in Yemen.
And the majority of our time was spent speaking about how we can continue to partner with them and help build their capability, in particular in air defense and in the maritime domain.
Q: General Dempsey, you said you went to Afghanistan to see if the campaign objectives were still valid. At the same time, as far as I know, you kept the fact of your trip under wraps ‘til you came back sort of implies a level of doubt about the campaign objectives.
I know you said you're satisfied that everything's on track. But did you have doubts about the way things were going because of the insider attacks?
GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I kept it under wraps because I was afraid you all would ask to come with me, to tell you the truth.
I kept -- no -- the truth I was originally planned to go to Pakistan to meet with General Kayani, and because of some of the issues related to that film, he and I discussed postponing that visit -- mostly so that I would give him the time to deal with the issues he was dealing with internally.
And then with the available time I decided to extend my trip in Afghanistan.
But, look, I have no -- I truly have no doubts about our campaign objectives and our ability to achieve them. As particularly those I'm responsible for, which are the military campaign objectives.
Q: Why not (inaudible)
GEN. DEMPSEY: Why didn't I bring (inaudible)?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, on this particular trip I was running a rather changing -- remember, I was supposed to go to Pakistan first. And I wanted that to be a very private visit with General Kayani. I only changed the trip right at the end.
Q: Can I just follow, Mr. Secretary, please?
SEC. PANETTA: Just a minute. Let me (inaudible) go ahead.
Q: I wanted to ask, defense officials have said lately that as you build the budget for next year you're going back to the strategy that was released in January, making some adjustments where needed as problems have arisen over the year.
And I was curious if you could outline some of those changes and what your thinking is as you relook the strategy from last year.
SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, I think the key for us has been the strategy that we put in place. We went through a process of developing a new defense strategy not only for the present but for the future. It has some very key elements that we think are important to that strategy, and we want to adhere to those elements.
In fashioning the budget that we have to do now, obviously based on some of the changes that were made in the Congress, on some of the proposals we've made. And -- and obviously that's not -- that's still not a completed process. So we don't know ultimately what's going to happen there.
You know, we've -- we've kind of at least looked at that and said, you know, are there modifications we have to make?
But there are no -- there are no modifications to the basic strategy that we have developed. Every one of those elements still remains a cornerstone and a foundation for our strategy in the future, and the investments that we make in our budget basically reflect those priorities. If there are changes there are going to be changes in the margin?
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
First, for Mr. Chairman on your visit to Afghanistan, and then Mr. Secretary on China later.
Mr. Chairman, you said that you wanted to visit Mr. Kayani in Pakistan. My question is on your visit to Afghanistan, what Pakistani officials are saying in Pakistan that without Pakistani cooperation or help there cannot be peace or stability for long term in Afghanistan.
My question is, sir, that do you believe that the Haqqani Network and other terrorists across the border are now under control of the Pakistani government or General Kayani? Are you sure now that you can do without Pakistan's cooperation?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I have always believed that the outcome in Afghanistan will clearly have -- have to be -- include some resolution of the groups that operate out of western Pakistan.
And my purpose in going to visit General Kayani was to get his insights and his intentions in that regard.
Q: Instead he -- he went to Moscow, General Kayani. He is in Moscow.
Mr. Secretary, my question for you is that you just cam back from China. There's a tension in the South China Sea and there's a tension in Indian Ocean.
And Chinese defense minister was in India and you went to India. My question is that U.S. and India is now working on one of the largest or biggest arms deal between U.S. and India. What are you telling to the Chinese about this deal? And also what are you telling to the Indians as far as your U.S.-Pakistan defense deals (inaudible)?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, we didn't discuss that -- that specific assistance that we're working on with -- with India. But just in general, I think in the discussions I had the with the Chinese, it was that the purpose of our effort to rebalance to the Pacific is aimed at the prosperity and security of -- of the Pacific region, and that a key to that strategy is a strong bilateral relationship between the United States and China, because we share concerns in the Pacific.
We share concerns with regards to terrorism, with regards to issues like nuclear proliferation, with regards to humanitarian assistance, maritime rights, et cetera, and that it's important for us to work to develop the capabilities of countries in that region so that they could help secure themselves.
So if I ever was asked about the situation in India, my answer would be the same as what we do with regards to other countries in the region. We try to help develop their capabilities so that they can help provide security for that region.
Q: And finally, Mr. Secretary, quickly...
SEC. PANETTA: Don't filibuster.
(inaudible) over here.
GEN. DEMPSEY: I don't know how he keeps track of it.
SEC. PANETTA: Go ahead.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Congress has left town without making a deal to avoid sequestration. Last week Dr. Carter spoke. He said some sort of short-term deal might be beneficial. Do you agree -- do you agree with that statement? (inaudible) to avoid sequestration (inaudible).
SEC. PANETTA: I'll take whatever the hell deal they can make right now to deal with sequestration. I mean, the problem -- the problem now is that, you know, they've left town. And all of this has now been put off into the lame duck session.
And so it's extremely important that when they return after the election that they take steps to deal, you know, not just with this issue, but with the larger fiscal cliff problems that the country that this country's facing.
We -- we cannot -- we cannot maintain a strong defense for this country if sequester is allowed to happen, number one. But very frankly, just the shadow of sequester being out there continually is something that, you know, it basically creates a problem for us as we try to plan for the future. What exactly, you know, what are we going to be facing? How are we going to deal with it?
We need stability. You want a strong national defense for this country? I need to have some stability. And that's what I'm asking the Congress to do: Give me some stability with regards to the funding of the Defense Department for the future.