Interview with Secretary Panetta

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - March 15, 2012

            DAOUD SULTANZOY:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

            SECRETARY LEON PANETTA:  Thank you very much.

            DAOUD SULTANZOY:  It's a difficult time for both countries, and you've come at a very important juncture of -- in this time.  Afghanistan and the United States have come a long way, and yet some tragic incidents and situations can hamper a good opportunity that both nations have.

            What is the latest finding that that you have about this brazen cruelty in Kandahar?

            SEC. PANETTA:  Look, my understanding is that the investigation is proceeding.  It's going forward under our procedures of military justice, and I've urged them to do a thorough and expeditious investigation that will determine what charges are to be brought against this individual.  And once those charges are brought, I can assure the Afghan people that he will brought to justice swiftly.

            DAOUD SULTANZOY:  The American government's sentiment is always reflected in the media, but the U.S. public sentiment is very rarely reflected.  You have been a very distinguished politician in the country, a representative.  Can you tell us how the American people feel?  And the Afghan people would like to know that.

            SEC. PANETTA:  You know, I think that in many ways there are -- there are similar feelings here.  I think the Afghan people have been through many years of war and are tired of the conflict and the loss of life and, I know, want to have a peaceful, sovereign, independent Afghanistan in which they can raise their families in peace and hopefully give their children a better life. 

            And I think that's how the American people feel.  This has been 10 years of war that the American people have been involved -- and a lot of our sons and daughters have gone to war, and many of them have been killed.  And so there's -- you know, there's some exhaustion --

            DAOUD SULTANZOY:  Yes.

            SEC. PANETTA:  -- with these long periods of war.

            But at the same time, the American people believe that when we engage in war and when our sons and daughters pay with their lives, that it is important for us to accomplish the mission -- that we are involved with, that that mission is to establish an Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself.  That's our mission.  That's our goal.  And I think the American people want that to be accomplished.

            DAOUD SULTANZOY:  The United States was attacked -- 2001, and you came here to make sure that your security is assured.  And yet the war has to be fought outside our borders, and if the war was fought there, we won't be facing tragedies as such as we did.

            How are you going to resolve that issue of outside our borders?  The war emanates from those areas.

            SEC. PANETTA:  That -- it's one of the challenges that we obviously face; that, you know, we know that terrorism and the terrorists often find safe haven across those borders and then cross into Afghanistan to create havoc and take lives; and that we think it is important that that be addressed; that, you know, we can fight and we can achieve the goals that we want to achieve in Afghanistan, but to ultimately have a true peace for the future, it is extremely important that we deal with terrorism wherever it exists.  And terrorists cannot be the friends of any country.  Terrorists are terrorists.

            DAOUD SULTANZOY:  OK.

            SEC. PANETTA:  And they need to deal with that.

            DAOUD SULTANZOY:  I -- when I was growing up, I remember Kandahar being one of the most pro-American cities in this country, because America was engaged in nonmilitary development activities.  And most Kandaharis knew English in those days.

            And they were prospering.  And I think America can do that again, you know, paying attention to development and to post-2014, the drawdown.  I hope the drawdown is not embroiled in election fervor.  Usually every two years in America this fervor goes up.

            And the drawdown at one point was 23,000, now latest reports are saying that an additional 20,000 will be removed from -- in 2013, and then the British prime minister said that they will end everything in 2013 -- very conflicting messages.  The people here in the region are confused.

            SEC. PANETTA:  No, I understand.  The press often plays up these issues, and it can be confusing.  But I want to assure the Afghan people that having participated in the ministerials with our NATO allies, that the United States and our NATO allies are committed to a very firm strategy here, a strategy that will mean that we will -- obviously, we will gradually transition areas to Afghan control, and we've already begun that process.

            We have made good progress here in Afghanistan.  I think 2011 was a real turning point.  Levels of violence are down.  We've weakened the Taliban.  We've been able to develop an Afghan army and police that are assuming good operational competence, taking over in areas.  And that's extremely important.  It's a tribute to the Afghan leadership that that's happening.  And in addition to that, we are successfully beginning these transitions.

            We'll continue that process through 2012 and 2013.  And our goal right now is to not in any way expedite that kind of drawdown until we reach the end of 2014.  Our goal is to draw down by 2014.  That's our path, that's our goal, and we're going to stick to that.

            More importantly, we're going to maintain an enduring presence here.  And I think the Afghan people need to know that, that the United States is not going anywhere.  We're going to continue to be here to assist the Afghan people in development, in training, in assistance and ensuring that this country is strong and independent for the future.

            DAOUD SULTANZOY:  Which is very important, you know, 2014 -- post - 2014, American footprint, U.S. footprint in Afghanistan -- can you tell us a little bit about that?  Of course, military footprint is one thing, but the upkeep of the military and police and other security forces in Afghanistan is also a matter to address.

            SEC. PANETTA:  That's true.  That's true.

            DAOUD SULTANZOY:  And both these issues are not that clear to us.

            SEC. PANETTA:  We've been -- we've been discussing these issues with our NATO allies.  And obviously, in Chicago, the leadership of these countries will come together to following up on the Lisbon agreement, kind of lay out the strategy between now and 2014 and beyond.

            I think they'll want to discuss how we continue these transitions.  They'll want to discuss the level of the Afghan army and police that is sustainable for the future, one that all of us can, in working with the Afghans, be able to assure the Afghan people that they will have a strong and stable army and police that'll be able to maintain order in the future.  That's being discussed as well.

            And then lastly, the question of what missions are we going to perform beyond 2014:  I think the key missions that we can see right now are we have to continue to counter terrorism and go -- continue to go after those that would try to disrupt this country and those terrorists who would continue to try to plan attacks on our own country.  We have to continue to operate against them.  We have to continue to advise, assist, train the Afghan army and be able to support them.  And I think we have to continue the development side of this, to give the Afghan people the opportunity and development that will create a stable economy and future for this country.

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