Transcript: Coalition troops’ Q&A with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
Transcript of Q&A with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at Camp Leatherneck (Helmand province, Afghanistan) on March 14, 2012:
“I’m just wondering, sir, as far as our armed forces…deployment to Australia? I just want to check on that sir.”[Laughter]
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta:
“You’re looking for other places to go? We are…Obviously as we go through this budget cycle that we’re on – and as you know, Congress handed me a number $487 billion in savings that I have to achieve out of the defense budget over the next 10 years.
“And thankfully because of all the service chiefs working together, we decided the best way to do that is to establish a strategy – the kind of defense that we want not just now but in the future. And working together, we’ve defined what that strategy is.
“Just to give you a few of the ideas out of that strategy.
“We’ll be a smaller force as a result of coming out of Iraq and, hopefully, eventually out of Afghanistan. But we have to agile, we have to be deployable, we have to be flexible, we have to be technologically advanced. In many ways, the troops here understand what that’s about because you are agile. And that’s what we need in the force, not only for today but tomorrow.
“We’re going to be focused on two key areas because those are where the problems are. We focus on the Pacific – Asia Pacific – and we’ll be focused on the Middle East.
“In Asia Pacific, we’ll have a force structure that’s out there. We’ve got Navy presence out there. We’ve got Air Force presence with our bombers. But we’ll also have troop presence from all of the different services, from the Army obviously located in Korea but elsewhere as well. And the Marines have always maintained a large presence throughout the Pacific – in Japan, Okinawa, elsewhere throughout the Pacific.
“One of the things we want to do is to develop rotational presence so that we’ll have a presence not only in the Pacific and in the Middle East but everywhere in the world – in Latin America, in South America, in Europe – so that we will be able to rotate in to train, to advise, to exercise, and to show we have a presence.
“And that’s exactly what we’re doing in Australia to establish a rotational presence with regards to Australia. Our hope is to establish the same kind of presence in the Philippines and elsewhere to be able to develop that important presence that is so important to showing the world that we are a Pacific power, we’re going to remain a Pacific power, and we’re going to be there for a long time to come.
“So yes we are. We’ve developed that with the Australians and you know if you’re lucky enough you’ll be one of those rotating out of Australia sometime in the near future.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta:
“That’s a damn good question. You’ve been talking to the press here?[Laughter]
“That’s the whole purpose of my trip to Kyrgyzstan was to make very clear how important that relationship is. I mean, as you guys know, the Pakistanis have shut down our portals and we’re hoping at some point to reopen them. But in the meantime, we’re dependent on this northern distribution network, which goes right through Kyrgyzstan. And frankly, it’s been extremely important. We haven’t missed a beat because of that. We’ve been getting our stuff in here. We’ve been getting our troops in here. And that base in Manas is extremely important to that effort.
“Our agreement goes through mid-2014. And the purpose of my visit was to indicate how important that relationship is and that we would like to be able to extend that relationship in the future.
“We’re going to have an enduring presence here in Afghanistan. Even as we ultimately draw down by the end of 2014, we’ll continue to have missions here that we’re going to have to perform: counter-terrorism missions. We’ll have to continue to advise, to train, to assist, and to provide enablers in the future. In order to do that, and that was, frankly, that’s encouraging news to Kyrgyzstan, which is interested in a stable Afghanistan. So what I proposed to them is that we discussed that kind of long-term relationship and the maintenance of that very important transit center at Manas. And I have to tell you that I received a very welcomed kind of enthusiasm to try to engage in those discussions. So I’m pretty confident that hopefully we’ll be able to maintain that relationship for a long time to come.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta:
“You did it because of that dream that I talked about. The dream of giving our children, those children, your children a better life in the future.
“I mean the reality was, look, the United States of America was brutally attacked on 9/11. Attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists whose goal continues to be to try to attack the United States of America. And the reason you’re here is to make damn sure that never happens again.
“And we have – day-in-and-day-out because of sacrifices by you and everybody else, we have made significant progress in that effort. You’ve seen it here in Afghanistan – violence levels are down. The Afghan Army is engaged in greater operations, showing that they can do the job. We’ve transitioned key areas to Afghan control and security. And that’s going to be the key.
“The key to making sure that the Taliban never again finds a safe haven here is to have an Afghanistan that is secure, that can govern itself, that’s a sovereign independent country that will make sure the Taliban never returns.
“And that will help ensure the dream for your children as well.
“In addition to that, we have – because of targeting efforts – significantly weakened Al Qaeda. The operations we’ve conducted against Al Qaeda, not just here but across the border – we have undercut their key leadership. Not only going after [Osama] Bin Laden but going after their top leadership. And the result is that they’re on the run. They have been able to come together on any kind of command and control capability to put together the kind of plans that were involved in 9/11. Why? Because of men and women dedicated to going after those guys. And we have been successful in doing that. Are they still a threat? You bet they’re still a threat. And we’re going to continue to put pressure on them in Yemen, in Somalia, wherever the hell they go. They’re not going to have any place to hide because we’re going to continue to go after them.
“So it’s because of what you’re doing, it’s because of the sacrifice you’re making, it’s because of the sacrifice of thousands of others who have been willing to put their lives on the line that we are able not only to go after terrorism wherever the hell it’s at but ensure as a result of that that our children are going to have a more secure life for the future.
“You have more than earned their thanks for giving that better life in the future.”
- WhatTheFolly.com: Panetta on damage control mission in Afghanistan
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks to U.S. troops in Afghanistan
- 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)