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Media Availability with Secretary Panetta

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - February 1, 2012

                 SECRETARY LEON PANETTA:  All right.  Everybody set up?  

                OK.  Looking forward, obviously this one's going to be my second ministerial with my NATO ministers, and I'm looking forward to going to that event.  And then from there we're going to go to Ramstein and to the Landstuhl Medical Center, which takes care of our wounded coming out of Afghanistan.  They've done a terrific job, so we'll stop there and pay tribute to the medical staff as well as visit with some of the wounded warriors. 

                And then from there we go to the Munich conference and Secretary Clinton and I will make a presentation to basically inform them about our defense strategy plus the budget decisions that have been made and then obviously indicate, you know, our commitments -- our continuing commitments, strong commitments to Europe and to NATO. 

                At the NATO ministerial, I'm going to brief also on the strategy and the budget decisions.  We have been briefing them pretty regularly.  So all of the countries are informed about the strategy as well as the budget decisions.  We've been doing that on a continuing basis.  This is the first time I'll have all of the ministers gathered, and we'll go through the briefing there. 

                I'll also obviously stress our strong commitment to NATO and what we're doing to back that up and then try to set the stage for Chicago with regards to Afghanistan and, you know, the next steps to be taken by the alliance. 

                On NATO, in many ways our -- you know, one of our pillars of our strategy is to build on successful partnerships, and NATO is, you know, I think without question, one of the most successful military alliances in history.  And they are a force multiplier for us.  They are extremely important to confronting crises around the world, from Afghanistan to Libya.  And for that reason, it is -- it's very important that the United States maintain a strong commitment to NATO, and we will. 

                Reality is that even after we take down two of the BCTs, the combat teams that we're going to be taking down, there will be two that will remain in Europe.  And in addition to that, we are going to have a brigade in the United States that will be dedicated to NATO, and what they will do is rotate battalions -- battalion task forces to Europe twice a year to conduct exercises in Europe.  And you know, just to understand, those two BCTs we're taking -- we're taking out of Europe were not -- had not been there for the last few years because they've been in Afghanistan. 

                So what we're going to -- what we're to have there is a presence that will represent the largest troop presence of anywhere else in the world.  I think we're -- you know, we're -- we'll be going from roughly about 43,000 to 37,000, but those 37,000 soldiers are still the largest presence "“ Army presence anywhere in the world, which indicates obviously, again, the importance of Europe and the importance of our strong commitment to our NATO -- to the NATO alliance. 

                At the same time, one of the things I want to stress with NATO is the importance of them to also look ahead as to what kind of -- what kind of defense is NATO going to have for 2020.  That was kind of -- you know, that was the framework for designing our strategy.  In many ways, I think NATO has to go through the same process of looking forward and deciding what kind of force does it want for 2020.  

                They've got to -- got to look at their capabilities.  Obviously one of the issues we'll be discussing is smart defense and trying to make sure that they develop those important capabilities that they need for future missions.  

                At the same time, my concern is that these countries are through budget constrictions.  And what I -- what I don't want to see happen is smart defense used as an excuse for not maintaining core capabilities in defense -- in other words, you know, they'll focus on a particular capability but in terms of their other core military capabilities, that they won't -- you know, they won't make the kind of investments that need to be made.  And the danger from that, it seems to me, is that, you know, as we engage in future crises, that if one nation decides to opt out, that nation could take an important capability with it that NATO may need in order to be able to successfully conduct their the -- whatever conflict we're engaged in to be able to have a success in that conflict. 

                We're going to continue to push on missile defense, and we are making gains there.  We've located radar systems in Europe.  We've got Aegis being located in Spain  and elsewhere.  So we're going to continue to push on that.  We'll continue to provide arms, obviously, to our European friends.  And what I -- what I want to urge is that they really do dedicate some effort at developing core capabilities, so that, you know, we can have a strong NATO alliance and a strong partnership for the future. 

                On Afghanistan, obviously, the main point I'll make is, you know, sticking -- we've got to stick to the Lisbon strategy.  The United States has a very strong commitment to Lisbon and to the strategy that was laid out there.  And what we want is for all of our NATO partners to adhere to that strategy.  We all went in together and we'll all go out together.  But we have to do it on the basis of a strong alliance and a strong commitment that was made in Lisbon. 

                General Allen -- I had a SVTC with him yesterday, and he strongly feels that things are on track to meet the goals that were laid out by Lisbon.  We have weakened the Taliban.  We've made good progress in going after them.  The level of violence is down.  It continues to be down.  And you know, admittedly, these are the winter months, but at the same time, as he looked at almost every area in Afghanistan, you know, security is clearly improving in all of those areas.  A lot of it is due to the Afghan armed forces, the army.  They're doing much better operationally, and we continue to try to train and improve them in that capability. 

                And the other thing that is important is that we are -- we are transitioning areas to Afghan governance and security.  We're involved now in the second tranche.  And as I've mentioned to you before, that means that about 50 percent of the population in Afghanistan will now be under Afghan governance and security.  That's an important step. 

                I think I've said this before, but you know, if you kind of stand back and look at where we are, 2011, I think, was very much a kind of turning point in terms of the war in Afghanistan.  And probably the most important thing was not only our ability to really go after the Taliban, but it was also the fact that the Afghan army stepped up to the challenge and were involved.  You know, we've had indications that the Taliban itself had -- in many ways, you know, their main incentive for continuing this war is to fight foreigners.  But when they're fighting Afghans, it becomes very different and it impacts on their -- you know, their desire and their incentive to continue the war.  So I think we have made an important turning point in 2011. 

                And so consolidating those gains is going to be what we have to do in 2012, ensuring that we continue the transitions, ensuring that we continue to improve the Afghan army during this year. 

                And 2013 becomes an even more critical year, more critical because we'll be going into the final transitions, final tranches, and those'll be some of the most difficult areas.  But nevertheless, you know, our goal is to complete all of that transition in 2013 and then, hopefully, by mid- to the latter part of 2013, we'll be able to make -- you know, to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advice and assist role, which is basically fulfilling what Lisbon was all about. 

                2014 then becomes a year of consolidating the transition and making sure that those gains are in fact held, so that we can move towards a more enduring presence beyond 2014. 

                As the president has said, we're committed to an enduring presence there.  We have the missions we're going to be involved with -- those CT operations.  We'll be involved with training, advising and assisting, not only the Afghan forces, but we'll continue to have to provide enabling forces for ISAF as well as Afghanistan.  And there'll be a large civilian presence there involved with development.  So there clearly is going to be a continuing presence in Afghanistan for the long term, and that's something, you know, we'll want to discuss again at this ministerial. 

                On the ANSF, the key there is to have a sufficient and sustainable force that can be there for the future.  That's the key.  And one of the things we'll be discussing are, you know, what the size of that force should be.  

                But a lot of that is going to be dependent on the funds that are going to be put on the table in order to sustain that force.  And that's one of the things, frankly, I'm going to be pushing at this ministerial is, you know, to make sure that funds are provided, sufficient funds are provided by our -- by our allies, and that we also expand the pool for funds to be provided.  I think we ought to be looking at others as well that are non-NATO, looking at Arab countries to help provide assistance, looking at Japan, looking at Korea, looking at other countries that can help provide the funding, because in many ways, the funding is going to largely determine what kind of force we can sustain for the future.  And that's going to be a principal effort, not only beginning at this ministerial, but we're going to continue to have teams going to different countries to develop those funds. 

                At Ramstein -- I mentioned what the purpose of that is going to be, and I also mentioned at Munich, what Secretary Clinton and I are going to be doing there as well.  And then from there, we all head home to see who the hell wins in the Super Bowl.  One thing I know is that the 49ers aren't going to be there.  (Laughter.)  It won't be them.  It won't be them. 

                MR.    :  All right -- (off mic) -- 

                Q:  Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you if you would flesh out a little bit that thought you offered a minute ago about 2013 in Afghanistan.  You said it would be an even more critical year, and you said that in the latter part of the year there'd be a transition from combat role to I think what General Allen calls security assistance role.  Could you elaborate a bit more?  And do you have a particular marker date that's going to be discussed at this meeting, what's been proposed in Chicago?  And could you elaborate on that point? 

                SEC. PANETTA:  I think we're -- you know, we will be discussing kind of, you know, what we're looking at over these next few years in terms of making sure we fulfill the Lisbon strategy.  And look, the transition I was talking about is in fact the fulfillment of the Lisbon strategy.  That's what -- that's what the hope was, that hopefully, we could reach a point in the latter part of 2013 that we could make the same kind of transition we made in Iraq, from a combat role to a train-and-assist role. 

                Look, it doesn't mean that, you know, we're not -- we're not going to be combat-ready.  We will be, because we always have to be in order to defend ourselves.  But we are going to be largely transitioning to a support role for the Afghan army as they take over these different areas in the future. 

                Q:  Mr. Secretary, as you know, President Sarkozy last week suggested a speeding-up of the Lisbon schedule that you've described.  Could I get your reaction to that, and more broadly, whether it is at all even conceivable that all combat troops, U.S. and allies, could come out of Afghanistan in 2013? 

                SEC. PANETTA:  I think it's really important for all of the nations that are involved, the NATO nations, the ISAF nations, to stand by the Lisbon strategy.  And the Lisbon strategy basically said that we ultimately are in a process where we will withdraw our forces by the end of 2014.  And I think we ought to stick with that. 

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