Panetta Thanks Front-line Troops for Successes in Afghanistan

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan, Dec. 14, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta trav­eled here to the east­ern reach­es of Pak­ti­ka province to thank troops on the front lines he cred­it­ed with mak­ing the gains that are turn­ing the tide in Afghanistan.

“The fact is, this is where the rub­ber hits the road,” the sec­re­tary told an assem­bly of about 200 172nd Infantry Brigade sol­diers based about 30 miles from the Pak­istan bor­der.

“You are the ones that are out here fight­ing every day” to achieve the mis­sion in Afghanistan, Panet­ta said.

“This is a key area. You guys have done great work,” the sec­re­tary added. “For all the sac­ri­fice that you are doing, the real­i­ty is that it is pay­ing off and that we are mov­ing in the right direc­tion and we are win­ning this very tough con­flict here in Afghanistan. And it is main­ly due to you, to all of you.”

Panet­ta thanked the sol­diers who are “fight­ing to make sure that our coun­try is nev­er threat­ened by the likes of al-Qai­da or oth­er ter­ror­ists who would attack our coun­try”

“We are achiev­ing a turn­ing point, after 10 years of war, when it comes to ter­ror­ism,” the sec­re­tary said, rec­og­niz­ing efforts that have tak­en down al-Qai­da leader Osama bin Laden and oth­er key ter­ror­ist lead­ers and weak­ened the insur­gency.

“We have made it very dif­fi­cult for them to come togeth­er to plan the kind of attack that we saw on 9/11,” Panet­ta said. “And as a result of the efforts of both the mil­i­tary and the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, the bot­tom line is that not only is the world safer, not only is this area safer, but our coun­try is safer.”

“That’s what this bat­tle is all about. That is what this fight is all about,” he said.

Look­ing ahead, Panet­ta rec­og­nized suc­cess­es being achieved with­in the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces that are assum­ing increas­ing secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty for their coun­try.

“Are there chal­lenges out there? You are damned right there are chal­lenges,” he said. “Are we going to be able to take on those chal­lenges? You are damned right we are.

“And the result is going to be that ulti­mate­ly, here in Afghanistan, we will be able to estab­lish a coun­try that is able to gov­ern and secure itself and we will make sure that the Tal­iban … [and] that al-Qai­da will nev­er again be able to find safe haven here,” the sec­re­tary con­tin­ued. “And that is because of what you are doing right here, right now.”

Panet­ta stressed the impor­tance of restor­ing rela­tions with the Pak­ista­nis to ensure con­tin­ued secu­ri­ty suc­cess, par­tic­u­lar­ly along the bor­der regions. Although the rela­tion­ship is com­pli­cat­ed and at times has been dif­fi­cult, it’s impor­tant, he said, because Pak­istan and Unit­ed States face a com­mon ene­my.

“Ulti­mate­ly, to win in Afghanistan, we have to win in Pak­istan as well,” the sec­re­tary said.

Panet­ta also empha­sized Pakistan’s respon­si­bil­i­ty in work­ing toward that goal. “If we are going to secure this coun­try, the Pak­ista­nis bet­ter damn well secure their coun­try as well,” he said.

After fin­ish­ing his remarks, Panet­ta field­ed ques­tions from the sol­diers, assur­ing them that the Unit­ed States has no inten­tion of let­ting their accom­plish­ments unrav­el after the U.S. mil­i­tary leaves Afghanistan.

“We have spilled too much blood here,” he said, empha­siz­ing that the Unit­ed States is com­mit­ted to a long-term rela­tion­ship with Afghanistan to help ensure its suc­cess.

“In the end, this is about the Afghans. This is their coun­try, and we have to give them what­ev­er assis­tance they need to make sure they can gov­ern and secure this coun­try,” the sec­re­tary said. “But the answer to your ques­tion is, we are not going to walk away from the respon­si­bil­i­ty to ensure that all of the blood that has been spilled here has not been spilled in vain.”

Panet­ta, who pre­sent­ed Pur­ple Heart awards to 12 “Task Force Black Hawk” sol­diers, not­ed the sac­ri­fices that ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies are mak­ing.

The sec­re­tary acknowl­edged the hol­i­days present a par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult time for Afghanistan-deployed ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies back home.

“On behalf of the Depart­ment of Defense, but more impor­tant­ly, on behalf of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, thank you for your great ser­vice, your ded­i­ca­tion, for your brav­ery, and for your will­ing­ness to be here and fight on behalf of your coun­try,” Panet­ta said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of the work that you do.”

“You guys are heroes. You guys are patri­ots and I thank you for your ser­vice,” he said.

The sec­re­tary deliv­ered a sim­i­lar mes­sage when he vis­it­ed the U.S. embassy after return­ing to Kab­ul, thank­ing the diplo­mat­ic corps for its con­tri­bu­tions to Afghanistan’s con­tin­ued suc­cess.

“As much our men and women in uni­form are patri­ots and heroes, so are you,” the sec­re­tary told the group as he praised their will­ing­ness to put them­selves in harm’s way as they serve their coun­try.

“You don’t need a gun. You don’t need a uni­form,” Panet­ta said. “By virtue of what you do and how you serve, you are in my book heroes and patri­ots for Amer­i­ca.”

Panet­ta rec­og­nized that both the Defense Depart­ment and State Depart­ment are fac­ing bud­getary con­straints, but empha­sized that the mis­sions of both are crit­i­cal to America’s nation­al secu­ri­ty.

“Our nation­al secu­ri­ty is not just a strong mil­i­tary,” he said. “We need a strong diplo­ma­cy. We need to have a strong econ­o­my. We need to have a good qual­i­ty of life. All of that makes up our nation­al secu­ri­ty [for] the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca.”

As a result, “all of that has to be pro­tect­ed for the future,” the sec­re­tary said.

“So we all have to remain sure that if the Unit­ed States is to remain strong, we need to remain strong in all of these areas,” Panet­ta said.

Main­tain­ing America’s nation­al secu­ri­ty, he said, ensures “that we can pro­vide the lead­er­ship that is nec­es­sary in the world to con­front the threats that are out there.”

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

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