by Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
2/19/2013 - WASHINGTON -- The
President's announcement yesterday that 34,000 U.S. troops will come out
of Afghanistan in the next 12 months makes sense in the context of the
broader campaign, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Feb. 15.
During what he called his last Pentagon news conference, the secretary
noted that when he assumed his position in mid-2011, the U.S. troop
surge was fully in place, with about 100,000 Service members on the
"These additional forces have expanded our footprint and provided the
combat power necessary to disrupt the insurgency and push it out of its
traditional strongholds, particularly in the south," he said.
In the not quite two years since, the secretary said, U.S. and coalition
forces have partnered closely with their Afghan counterparts, which are
now at their full end strength of 352,000. Those forces are leading
nearly 90 percent of security operations in Afghanistan, and are
responsible for the security of more than three-fourths of the people,
"They have retained security gains even as the United States has drawn
down the surge forces that we had there, the 33,000," Panetta said.
He added that Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, who Feb. 10 turned over
command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan as well as NATO's International
Security Assistance Force, had for the past several months thoroughly
assessed the campaign plan and what troop strength is required to carry
it out. Panetta said he fully supported Allen's recommendations, which
informed the president's decision.
"The president's decision, announced last night, ... puts us firmly on a path, I believe, to fulfill our mission in
Afghanistan," he said.
The secretary said he's confident the new ISAF commander, Marine Corps
Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., "will have the combat power he needs to
protect our forces and to continue building up the capabilities of the
Afghan national security forces."
The United States, NATO, and the Afghan government set a course in 2010
that leads to Afghan forces assuming full responsibility for their
nation's security by the end of 2014.
"We are well on track for that goal," Panetta said. "And we will
maintain a long-term commitment to Afghanistan, including through the
continued training and equipping of Afghan forces and counterterrorism
operations against al-Qaida and their affiliates."
As he prepares to hand over his responsibilities as secretary of
defense, Panetta said, "with the continued dedication and sacrifice of
our troops, I am fully confident ... that we will prevail in denying
al-Qaida a safe haven from which to attack our homeland."