Transcript: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks to U.S. troops in Afghanistan
Remarks by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at Camp Leatherneck (Helmand province, Afghanistan) on March 14, 2012:
“This is a real honor. It’s an honor for me to have a chance to come out and see all of you and see Helmand province, where we’ve had so many – so many countries – that are involved in this effort.
“This is probably the broadest and the deepest international military coalition that we’ve seen in a long, long time. Fifty nations that are working together to bring together a very strong international effort to try to bring some peace, some justice, and hopefully some security to Afghanistan and to the world.
“I’m really proud – can’t tell you how proud I am – of the partnership that we have that’s working here. The partnership to try to build the kind of stability that’s so important.
“This was the Taliban’s stronghold. And because of your work, because of your dedication, because of the tremendous sacrifice that you’re making, the reality is that we are achieving greater stability and greater security in this area.
“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.
“9/11 was an attack against all of us. It was an attack against all those who believe in freedom and in democracy. And the reality is that all of us stepped forward to try to ensure that what happened on 9/11 does not happen again and to try to build an Afghanistan that ultimately can secure and govern itself. That’s the mission that we’re involved with.
“A mission not only to make sure that we go after Al Qaeda and their terrorist allies – that we go after all those that would support that kind of terrorism. And the key to that is an Afghanistan that can secure and govern and control its own country, to give it the sovereignty and independence and capability to do that. That’s what this is all about.
“So let me – first and foremost – thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for your sacrifice.
“This is not easy. These assignments are not easy. You’re away from family. You’re away from loved ones. And I realize what a tremendous sacrifice it is to be so far away from all those you love and, yet, you do it. That’s what service is all about.
“I’m a great believer in public service and one of the things I’ve seen as Secretary of Defense is that I represent men and women in uniform that are committed to public service, committed to giving something back to this country, committed to making sure that duty to country is what it’s all about. And I appreciate that service.
“I often told people that I’m the son of Italian immigrants who came to the United States. Like millions of others – not much money in their pocket, not much language ability, few skills. They came thousands of miles to a strange country. I used to ask my dad, ‘Why would you do that? Why would you leave the comfort of family – and yes it was a poor area in Italy – but why would you leave the comfort of family and travel thousands of miles to a strange country?’ And my father would say, ‘The purpose was because your mother and I believe we could give our children a better life.’ And that in many ways is the American dream. It’s the dream that we all have.
“It’s the dream that this country has for their children. It is, in many ways, the world dream that all of us struggle to make sure that our children will have a better life. It is the fundamental bond that we all share and that we all hope to achieve.
“And that’s what you’re all about. That’s what you’re doing here. Achieving that dream depends on men and women who are willing to make the sacrifices, to step forward, to work with fellow citizens and to forge a better and more secure life for our children.
“Together, shoulder to shoulder, all of you are bringing that dream together. And you’re putting your lives on the line every day, and I know it hasn’t been easy.
“The toughest job I have as Secretary – toughest job – is to write notes to the families of those who have lost their lives in battle.
“We’ve had a few from this area that I’ve had to be able to assume that very difficult burden of writing to those families.
“And to all of them, I say how sorry I am for the loss – the terrible loss – that they’ve endured. The only comfort is that the loved one not only loved them but loved this country and loved life and gave that life for all he or she loved. That makes them a hero and a patriot. And we will never forget them.
“And I say that to all of you. That you are heroes and patriots and we will not forget the sacrifice that you are involved in.
“We have been tested time and time again over a decade of war. That’s the nature of war – to confront every obstacle, to face every barrier, to fight through every challenge in order to accomplish a mission. That’s the nature of what war is all about.
“And these last few weeks have been a challenging time in which we’ve had to confront those kinds of issues. We’ve had protests and violence. We’ve had the burning of the Koran and of the Islamic religious texts. We’ve had ISAF forces that have been targeted for killings – murder. And last weekend, we were shocked to learn about the tragic event that took place in nearby Kandahar province that resulted in the deaths of so many Afghan civilians.
“Each of these incidents is deeply troubling. And we have to learn the lessons from each of those incidents so that we do everything possible to make sure that they don’t happen again.
“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 and doing it in an outstanding fashion with courage and with dedication.
“It was your partnership and the effectiveness of the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] that serve to promote calm and restraint. Your skill and your trust in each other and your professional that has always been the key to our ability to overcome any challenge and to keep our eye on the mission that we’re here for.
“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, whatever the incident, that we have to confront never lose sight of the mission that we’re here to achieve.
“We will not allow individual incidents to undermine our resolve to that mission and to sticking to the strategy that we’ve put in place. It’s a successful strategy. It’s one you’ve made possible by virtue of your sacrifices. And we’re going to stick to that strategy and make sure that we achieve the mission that we’re here to achieve.
“As tragic as these events of violence have been, they do not define the relationship between the coalition and the Afghan forces and the Afghan people. What you are doing out here everyday determines that relationship.
“Afghan forces are doing an outstanding job throughout Afghanistan because of the partnership that you’ve built here. You train. You fight together. And you’re willing to put your lives on the line together.
“Afghan forces continue to take charge and to head up operations and you’ve made that possible by working with them, by training them. More than 90% of the operations are now partnered with ANSF. That’s a remarkable achievement.
“Thanks to your efforts, our strategy is working. And I believe last year was a very important turning point here in Afghanistan. In 2011, violence levels were down throughout the country. In 2012, attacks are down 24% compared to this time last year.
“Here in RC-Southwest, violence levels are down 31%. I was just talking to the British commander here. There are areas that are down close to 80% because of the great work that has been done in this province.
“All of you have the opportunity to make 2012 the decisive year in this campaign.
“United States is also working to forge a strategic partnership with Afghanistan, and we continue to make significant progress on these discussions with the Afghan government.
“The strength of this partnership is judged by how respond to challenges and whether we stay determined to achieve the goal of a secure and a stable Afghanistan. And with that a safer world for our children.
“We will be tested. We will be challenged. We’ll be challenged by our enemy. We’ll be challenged by ourselves. We’ll be challenged by the hell of war itself. But none of that – none of that – must ever deter us from the mission that we must achieve. That mission is the dream that I talked about. The dream of making sure that we can provide our children – we can provide children of Afghans – a better future.
“Because of your sacrifice, because of what you’ve been able to do, because you’ve responded to everything we’ve asked you to do, we are closer to securing that dream here in Afghanistan.
“Thank you for your commitment to that effort. Thank you for your willingness to fight and to sacrifice for a better future. Thank you for the service that you are providing to your country and to the Afghan people. We will not fail.
“God bless you. And may God bless all of the great nations that are working to achieve that mission. Thank you, guys.”
- WhatTheFolly.com: Panetta on damage control mission 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)