By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, July 9, 2011 – The key to success in Afghanistan is the ability to transition responsibility to the Afghans, Leon E. Panetta said before beginning his first visit to the nation as defense secretary.
The secretary, who has been on the job precisely a week, said he feels good about the progress the United States has made.
“In many ways the military and CIA and others have done what the president asked us to do,” he said during an interview en route to Afghanistan. “We’ve been able to disrupt, dismantle al-Qaida. We’ve been able to, in many ways, return Afghanistan to itself.”
Afghan forces must take responsibility for the country’s security, and the transition plan is doing just that. The United States, coalition allies and the Afghan government are working together to develop capable military and police forces and local militias that will be able to maintain stability.
“That’s key and the area we have to focus on,” Panetta said. “From every thing I’ve seen, we’ve made good progress on that, but I think there’s a lot more work to do in terms of being able to transition responsibility to them.”
The secretary is going to Afghanistan with several core objectives. First is to meet with and thank U.S. troops. He is going “to thank them for the jobs they are doing and to assure them that we are going to finish the job in Afghanistan and bring the war to a responsible end,” said a senior defense official speaking on background about the trip.
It will be Panetta’s first meeting as defense secretary with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. When he was the director of the CIA, Panetta met Karzai. The secretary will also meet Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismullah Muhammidi Khan.
The secretary will discuss shared objectives – transition, drawdown and the build-up of Afghan forces.
He will also have the opportunity to discuss President Barack Obama’s drawdown decision with Afghan leaders. Obama ordered that 10,000 U.S. troops home by the end of the year and 33,000 by the end of September 2012. Panetta will stress the drawdown is a result of successes in Afghanistan and not a sign of war weariness or weakness.