Panetta Arrives in Afghanistan to Assess Progress

KABUL. Afghanistan, Dec. 13, 2011 — Rec­og­niz­ing what he called a piv­otal year in Afghanistan, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta arrived here today to thank U.S. ser­vice mem­bers for their role in revers­ing momen­tum against the Tal­iban, and to assure Afghan lead­ers of the Unit­ed States’ con­tin­u­ing com­mit­ment as tran­si­tion moves for­ward.

Panet­ta is sched­uled to meet with Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai and Defense Min­is­ter Abdul Rahim War­dak to express the Unit­ed States’ com­mit­ment to sup­port­ing Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces as they assume increas­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for Afghanistan’s secu­ri­ty.

Dur­ing his vis­it, the sec­re­tary said he also seeks views of con­di­tions on the ground from Marine Gen. John R. Allen, com­man­der of U.S. and NATO forces there, and U.S. Ambas­sador to Afghanistan Ryan C. Crock­er. Afghan and coali­tion troops have made sig­nif­i­cant progress revers­ing the insur­gency in the south and will be pay­ing more atten­tion to the east­ern provinces, a senior defense offi­cial said, adding that Panet­ta is expect­ed to meet with front-line troops.

Stop­ping in Dji­bouti before arriv­ing here, Panet­ta praised the lead­er­ship of Allen and Crock­er and the rela­tion­ships they have estab­lished in Afghanistan that have allowed U.S. and Afghan troops to move ahead against a weak­ened Tal­iban and to cre­ate bet­ter secu­ri­ty.

Panet­ta told reporters he looked for­ward to see­ing “the results of what our troops have been able to accom­plish” dur­ing 2011, which he expects to mark “a turn­ing point with regards to our effort in Afghanistan.”

“Our troops have been able to … reduce the lev­els of vio­lence there. We have seen the low­est lev­els of vio­lence in almost five years there now,” the sec­re­tary said.

“They are suc­cess­ful in secur­ing some of the key areas in Afghanistan,” he added, and in help­ing the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces make increased progress.

Panet­ta is expect­ed to dis­cuss progress toward tran­si­tion­ing full respon­si­bil­i­ty for the country’s sta­bil­i­ty by the end of 2014, as agreed to at the Lis­bon Sum­mit in Novem­ber 2010, a senior defense offi­cial trav­el­ing with him told reporters.

The sec­re­tary not­ed a mile­stone toward that goal, with Afghan secu­ri­ty forces in the midst of assum­ing secu­ri­ty con­trol for 18 areas under the sec­ond phase of the tran­si­tion plan. This effort, which will con­tin­ue through Decem­ber and into ear­ly 2012, ulti­mate­ly will bring 50 per­cent of the Afghan pop­u­la­tion under Afghan secu­ri­ty and gov­er­nance, he said.

“That is a sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment, and I will have a chance to see that first­hand,” Panet­ta said. “Clear­ly, I think Afghanistan is on a much bet­ter track in terms of our abil­i­ty to even­tu­al­ly tran­si­tion to an Afghanistan that can gov­ern and secure itself.”

Panetta’s vis­it comes as the Unit­ed States is work­ing to speed up the train­ing and deploy­ment of Afghan forces, and after a nation­al assem­bly con­duct­ed by Karzai endorsed a long-term secu­ri­ty agree­ment with the Unit­ed States.

The Unit­ed States has about 94,000 ser­vice mem­bers in Afghanistan, a senior defense offi­cial said, and is on track to com­plete a draw­down of 10,000 troops by the year’s end.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma announced last sum­mer that the first 10,000 of the 33,000 surge troops deployed to Afghanistan last year would return home this year. The rest of the surge forces are slat­ed to rede­ploy next year.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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