Panetta Arrives in Afghanistan to Assess Situation
KABUL, Afghanistan, June 7, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta arrived here today to meet with NATO and Afghan leaders, visit with American troops, and assess the situation on the ground.
This is Panetta’s fourth trip to Afghanistan as defense secretary. He will meet with International Security Assistance Force commander Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan C. Crocker and Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.
Panetta told reporters traveling with him that he will receive an update on the situation in Afghanistan and on the plans Allen has put in place for the final drawdown of surge forces. The roundtable was held in India yesterday, but embargoed until the secretary arrived in here for his unannounced visit.
The secretary will also receive briefings on the training, equipping and combat effectiveness of Afghan national security forces.
The secretary wants to pay tribute to Crocker, who is leaving his post shortly.
“He’s been around a long time in some very tough positions,” Panetta said of the ambassador. “Working with General Allen, he was able to complete the work on the [memorandums of understanding] and Strategic Partnership Agreement with the Afghans.”
The secretary said he wants to get a sense of what’s happening on the ground. The Taliban have launched some attacks lately that are more organized than in the past, Panetta said. While the levels of violence are down, it is a concern for him. “I think it’s important to make sure that we are aware of the kind of attacks they are going to engage in, particularly as we go through the rest of the summer,” he said.
The secretary said the situation in Pakistan also concerns him, but he said the United States will keep working with Afghanistan’s neighbor to reopen the supply lines through Pakistan and to get Pakistani security forces to stop the cross-border attacks by the Taliban and other terror groups like the Haqqani network.
The United States and India must continue to work with Pakistan, Panetta said.
“Having a stable Pakistan is extremely important,” he said.
The safe havens in the federally administered tribal areas in Pakistan continue to be a concern, Panetta said. Terrorists can use this area to plan attacks and then cross the border into Afghanistan and launch them. It’s in Pakistan’s interest as well to take on these groups, the secretary said. Terrorists have killed thousands of Pakistanis and that country’s military has been able to combat the terror groups in the past. The Pakistani military went into Waziristan to fight extremists there, for example.
“The bottom line with Pakistan: it is a complicated relationship, but it is a necessary relationship,” Panetta said.
The United States must keeping working with Pakistan, Panetta said, in order “to get their cooperation in that effort” to combat Pakistan-based terrorists.
Pakistan is important to the stability of the region, Panetta said. “For that reason, both India, the United States and others are going to have to do everything we can to try to do what is possible to improve the relationship,” he said.