Panetta Discusses Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 2011 — Even as deploy­ments to Iraq and Afghanistan draw down, Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers will con­tin­ue to deploy in the future, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said here today.

In a round­table meet­ing at the Pen­ta­gon with mil­i­tary media rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the sec­re­tary also dis­cussed the sit­u­a­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. rela­tion­ship with Pakistan. 

Though the Unit­ed States is with­draw­ing forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is a fair bet that the U.S. mil­i­tary will be called upon to meet new chal­lenges, the sec­re­tary said. 

“Ser­vice mem­bers will con­tin­ue to con­front threats in the world,” he said. “The like­li­hood is that we’re going to face some oth­er crises. If the Arab Spring has told us any­thing, it’s that we’re deal­ing with an awful lot of tur­moil in a com­pli­cat­ed part of the world.” 

Some 46,000 Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers are serv­ing in Iraq, and the Unit­ed States has not received a for­mal request for Amer­i­can train­ers to remain there after the Dec. 31 dead­line set by a 2008 agree­ment between the two coun­tries for all U.S. forces to be out of Iraq. Panet­ta said he sees some progress in that regard, as the Iraqis have agreed to dis­cuss with­in their gov­ern­ment a con­tin­ued U.S. pres­ence. They agreed to name a defense min­is­ter and inte­ri­or min­is­ter, the sec­re­tary not­ed, and they agreed to a tougher line with Iran, which has been ship­ping in weapons and pro­vid­ing train­ing to Iraqi insurgents. 

Mean­while, U.S. forces in Iraq are draw­ing down, and they are on pace for all to out by the year’s end, Panet­ta said. “The issue then will become what is the kind of train­ing assis­tance and pres­ence Iraq feels it needs in order to defend itself and secure itself,” he said. 

The Iraq and Afghanistan mis­sions are sim­i­lar, the sec­re­tary said, in that the mis­sion in both coun­tries is to ensure gov­er­nance so they can secure and defend them­selves and can­not become havens for al-Qai­da or oth­er ter­ror groups that might threat­en Unit­ed States. 

Iraq has made a lot of progress, he not­ed, with 650,000 mem­bers now serv­ing in its secu­ri­ty forces. The lev­el of vio­lence is down, he added, and gov­ern­ment offi­cials are try­ing to work togeth­er to sort through very dif­fi­cult issues. 

In Afghanistan, the coali­tion surge has made a dif­fer­ence and al-Qai­da and the Tal­iban have been weak­ened, Panet­ta said. “One of the real ques­tions was [whether we were] going to be able to devel­op an effec­tive Afghan army and police force,” he told the media representatives. 

The Afghan army and police have grown in num­bers and capa­bil­i­ty, he said, and sev­en areas of the coun­try have tran­si­tioned to Afghan secu­ri­ty con­trol. “The real chal­lenge will be whether or not the cen­tral gov­ern­ment … is going to be able to main­tain a lev­el of gov­er­nance that can pro­vide sta­bil­i­ty for that coun­try,” he said. 

Pak­istan remains a key play­er in the region, the sec­re­tary said. “Pak­istan has got to get the clear mes­sage that they can’t pick and choose among ter­ror­ists,” the sec­re­tary said. “Ter­ror­ism rep­re­sents as much a threat for their coun­try as it does for ours. They’ve got to take on this respon­si­bil­i­ty as well.” 

The Pak­ista­nis are get­ting bet­ter about coop­er­a­tion since the raid that killed al-Qai­da leader Osama bin Laden, Panet­ta said. “They have done bet­ter about going after some tar­gets we’ve giv­en them since the bin Laden raid,” he said. “At the same time, we have some bumps in the road in terms of relationship.” 

But the bot­tom line is that the Unit­ed States must con­tin­ue to work with Pak­istan, Panet­ta said. “We have got to con­tin­ue to put pres­sure on them, because the bot­tom line is that we can’t … win in Afghanistan with­out win­ning in Pak­istan,” the sec­re­tary said. 

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

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