Panetta’s damage control mission in Afghanistan
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan today to boost troop morale and ease tensions arising from Sunday’s shooting spree that killed 16 Afghan civilians.
The Kandahar rampage followed two recent disturbing incidents – a video purporting to show U.S. troops urinating on Afghan enemy corpses and the inadvertent burning of the Koran and other religious texts at Bagram Airbase – that have provoked public outcry and violent retaliations against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
“Each of these incidents is deeply troubling, and we have to learn the lessons from each…so that we do everything possible to make sure that they don’t happen again,” said Panetta. “But none of this is reflective of the overwhelming majority of troops, ISAF troops, Afghan troops who day-to-day are doing the job of trying to protect this country.”
Speaking at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, Panetta urged coalition troops and Afghan forces to stay focused on accomplishing their mission to ensure a safe, secure, and stable Afghanistan by the end of 2014 – when the U.S. troop pullout is expected to complete.
“We’re obviously working to try to stand together with the Afghan people. We’re fighting for a common cause to try to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven from which terrorists can launch an attack against our country,” said Panetta. “The key to our success is to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the mission that we’re here to achieve. Never lose sight of that mission. Whatever the event that we have to confront, never lose sight of the mission.”
Seeking to bolster morale amid uproar over Sunday’s shooting, Panetta praised the progress made since the troop surge in 2010, pointing out that last year marked “a very important turning point” in Afghanistan:
- Enemy initiated attacks have dropped for 9 consecutive months from May 2011 – January 2012. “This is the longest sustained downward trend in enemy- initiated attacks recorded by ISAF,” according to ISAF’s most recent monthly data report.
- Attacks initiated by enemy forces have dropped by 27% in January 2012 compared to January 2011.
- IED (improvised explosive device) attacks have declined by 30% in January 2012 compared to January 2011.
- Civilian casualties caused by coalition forces have decreased by 65% in January 2012 compared to January 2011. Insurgents cause 90% of civilian casualties, according to ISAF.
- More than 90% of coalition security operations are partnered with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)
“Because of your work, because of your dedication, because of the tremendous sacrifices that you’re making, the reality is that we are achieving great stability and greater security,” Panetta said. “All of you have the opportunity to make 2012 the decisive year in this campaign.”
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks to U.S. troops in Afghanistan
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Coalition troop Q&A with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
- Defense.gov: Video of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s address to troops at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan (March 14, 2012)
- International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan: ISAF monthly data trends through January 2012 (PDF)