Panetta Praises U.S.-Japan Alliance

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan, Oct. 24, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta today�cited the impor­tance of America’s alliance with Japan in main­tain­ing peace and secu­ri­ty across the Pacif­ic region.

Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta address­es U.S. and Japan­ese troops sta­tioned on Yoko­ta Air Base, Japan, Oct. 24, 2011. Panet­ta thanked the troops for their ser­vice and indi­vid­u­al­ly pre­sent­ed them with coins after his remarks.
DOD pho­to by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bai­ley
Click to enlarge

Dur­ing a town hall meet­ing with�some 200 U.S. and Japan­ese troops gath­ered in the 459th Air­lift Squadron hangar, Panet­ta said the U.S.-Japan alliance stretch­es more than 50 years and is, in many ways, the cor­ner­stone of peace and sta­bil­i­ty in the Pacif­ic. “And it will be for the next 50 years as well,” he added.

In line with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s strate­gic guid­ance, U.S. defense forces will main­tain and build on region­al rela­tion­ships with Japan and oth­er coun­tries, the sec­re­tary said.

“I just had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be in Indone­sia and meet with the [Asso­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Nations] defense min­is­ters,” he not­ed. “And I con­veyed the same mes­sage to them: the Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to work with all of them to improve our coop­er­a­tion, to improve our assis­tance, and to make sure that we strength­en secu­ri­ty for all nations in the Pacif­ic region.”

Panet­ta com­mend­ed Japan­ese and U.S. forces for their “extra­or­di­nary” efforts fol­low­ing the mag­ni­tude 8.9 earth­quake that struck the island nation in March. Japan­ese forces rapid­ly mobi­lized, orga­nized and brought relief to their fel­low cit­i­zens at a time of great cri­sis and per­il, the sec­re­tary said.

“The world wit­nessed the strength, the char­ac­ter, and the resilience of the Japan­ese peo­ple, and I pay trib­ute to Japan,” he said.

The U.S. military’s “great work” in bring­ing relief to the Japan­ese peo­ple suf­fer­ing fol­low­ing the earth­quake also is a source of pride, Panet­ta said.

America’s strength, he said, lies in its peo­ple serv­ing in uni­form at home or in Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq or else­where around the globe. “After near­ly a decade of war on ter­ror­ism, we have sig­nif­i­cant­ly weak­ened al-Qai­da and its mil­i­tant allies,” Panet­ta said.

The nation’s mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ties are respon­si­ble for that suc­cess, Panet­ta said, but he warned they must keep up the pres­sure on ter­ror­ists.

“Make sure they nev­er have any­place to hide — whether it’s Pak­istan, whether it’s Yemen, whether Soma­lia, whether it’s the Maghreb in North Africa,” the sec­re­tary said. “We have to keep the pres­sure on and do what the pres­i­dent said we must do, which is to dis­man­tle, dis­rupt and defeat al-Qai­da and its mil­i­tant allies. And we will do that.”

With the announced with­draw­al of all U.S. com­bat forces from Iraq by the end of this year, Panet­ta said, the world must under­stand the Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to have both a last­ing secu­ri­ty rela­tion­ship with Iraq and a troop pres­ence in the Mid­dle East.

“We will con­tin­ue to work with [Iraq] to estab­lish a nor­mal rela­tion­ship,” he said, that will pro­vide train­ing and assis­tance to Iraqi forces. And Panet­ta empha­sized that Amer­i­ca will main­tain a pres­ence in the Mid­dle East.

“At the same time, for Iran and any­body else who has any oth­er ideas, the Unit­ed States main­tains 40,000 troops in that region,” he not­ed.

Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force com­man­der, is suc­cess­ful­ly plan­ning and con­duct­ing the grad­ual reduc­tion of U.S. forces in Afghanistan lead­ing up to the trans­fer to Afghan-led secu­ri­ty in 2014, Panet­ta said.

“I believe that we have made great progress there as well, in weak­en­ing the Tal­iban, in build­ing up the Afghan army and police, and in giv­ing the capac­i­ty … to secure their coun­try,” he said.

Turn­ing to Libya, Panet­ta said he com­mends NATO forces and their part­ner mil­i­taries for the suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion of the mis­sion there. The Libyan peo­ple now have a chance to estab­lish a new coun­try that rep­re­sents all of its peo­ple and also rep­re­sents their hopes for free­dom and self-gov­ern­ment, he said.

“All of us can take a great deal of pride in the work that was done to achieve that mis­sion,” he said.

Panet­ta point­ed out all of the progress he not­ed could not have hap­pened with­out “the sac­ri­fices of those who were will­ing to serve.”

“Work remains,” he said. “We’ve got to con­tin­ue to con­front ter­ror­ism, … nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion in Iran and North Korea, … [and] a whole new bat­tle­field of the future, called ‘cyber.’ ”

Those chal­lenges, along with ris­ing pow­ers and con­tin­ued unrest in the Mid­dle East, will be met by an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary that is capa­ble, agile and respon­sive to threats, the sec­re­tary said.

“Most impor­tant­ly, we have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to strength­en our pres­ence in the Pacif­ic — and we will,” he said. “This is an impor­tant region. The secu­ri­ty of the world, in many ways, is depen­dent on the secu­ri­ty of the Pacif­ic.”

Panet­ta said his main pur­pose in vis­it­ing the troops was to thank them.

“You are the long arm of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pow­er,” he said. “You do a tough and a vital job. … I thank you for your ser­vice, because America’s strength is in peo­ple like you.”

The new great­est gen­er­a­tion in Amer­i­ca, the one that has gone to war over the last 10 years, includes more than 6,200 who have died and 46,000 who have been wound­ed in the nation’s ser­vice, Panet­ta said.

“You have done every­thing you have been asked to do,” he added.

Panet­ta told the U.S. troops that his duty is “to watch your back,” pledg­ing his sup­port as bud­get cuts loom.

“As all of you know,” he said, “we’re going to be fac­ing some very chal­leng­ing fis­cal issues in Amer­i­ca.”

Panet­ta said his goals for the defense bud­get include cut­ting defense spend­ing with­out cre­at­ing a hol­low force.

“Most impor­tant­ly, I am not going to break faith with the peo­ple who serve in uni­form, who put their lives on the line time and time and time again,” the sec­re­tary said. “I com­mit to you that I will do every­thing I can to pro­tect the ben­e­fits that were promised to you and to your fam­i­lies. That’s essen­tial to our com­mit­ment to you, for what you have done for Amer­i­ca.”

The sec­re­tary shook hands and pre­sent­ed a com­mem­o­ra­tive coin to each Amer­i­can and Japan­ese ser­vice mem­ber present.

This is Panetta’s first trip to Asia as defense sec­re­tary. He is in Japan after a vis­it to Indone­sia, and he will trav­el to South Korea lat­er this week. The Japan leg of his trip will con­tin­ue with sched­uled meet­ings with Prime Min­is­ter Yoshi­hiko Noda, For­eign Affairs Min­is­ter Koichi­ro Gem­ba and Defense Min­is­ter Yasuo Ichikawa.

En route to Japan, a senior defense offi­cial told reporters trav­el­ing with the sec­re­tary that the top­ics of dis­cus­sion for those meet­ings will range from arms exports and bal­lis­tic mis­sile defense to intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance tech­nol­o­gy and U.S. troop bas­ing in Japan.

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

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