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Media Availability with Secretary Panetta

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - June 6, 2012

            SEC. PANETTA:  This will be my fourth trip as secretary of defense, and what I'm looking forward to is, it'll be -- it'll be a quick trip.  I'll -- we'll go in, meet with General Allen, Ambassador Crocker and Minister Wardak, and basically just get an update as to the situation there, plus the plans that General Allen has put in place for the drawdown on surge, see where stand with that and then the overall situation on the tranches and how that's going, as well as the situation with the Afghan army and police; and I think, in particular, obviously, to pay tribute to Ambassador Crocker for the service that he's provided.  He's -- you know, he's -- he's been around a long time in some very tough positions, and you know, he was able, working with General Allen, to be able to complete the work on the MOUs (memorandums of understanding) and the strategic partnership that were very critical to our ability to move the ball forward with regards to, you know, the plan that General Allen wanted to put in place to be able to get that done. 

            So I'm going to pay tribute to Ryan and wish him well as he -- you know, as he concludes a very successful tour as ambassador there. 

            Other than that, you know, just really want to continue to get a feel for what's going on and get a sense of just exactly what are the Taliban doing.  There clearly have been -- there's been an increase in the attacks, and we've seen a recent attack that, you know, was much more organized than what we've seen before, using a vehicle IED (improvised explosive device) combined with suicide bombers. 

            And you know, that would -- again, level of violence is still down, you know, compared to the past, but I think it's important to try to make sure we are aware of the kind of attacks they're going to engage in, particularly as we go through the rest of the summer and/or the latter part of this year. 

            OK.  With that, we'll throw it open. 

            Q:  (Off mic.) 

            MR. GEORGE LITTLE:  Are we using the microphone? 

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, as you head into Afghanistan, it does seem as though violence has -- is on the uptick a little bit.  Can you talk a little bit about how you think that may or may not affect General Allen's plans for troop withdrawals and what you're going to tell him about how you think things may or may not proceed? 

            And again, you mentioned today about the Haqqani network, and what do you think the impact is going to be of the Haqqani network, considering there isn't an any action being taken against it? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  Well, I mean -- I mean, that's the -- the purpose is to really get General Allen's viewpoint of the situation there and, you know, his confidence level as to the ability to confront these threats from the Taliban and from the Haqqanis. 

            I -- you know, I think that in the conversation I had with him -- we do SVTCs (secure video teleconference) every week, and the last SVTC I had with him, while he expressed concern about, you know, these -- this renewed level of attacks, although I think he frankly anticipated that that would be the case -- that, you know, they would obviously try to uptick on the attacks -- that he was fully capable and that our forces are fully capable of meeting that threat.  And you know, I want to be able to obviously get a sense from him as to, you know, the capability of doing that, plus make sure that as we -- as we do engage in the drawdown of the surge in particular, that we are able to do it in a way that maintains the security of the areas that'll be involved. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Jennifer. 

            Q:  Sir, what is the message that your trip here to India -- what message should Pakistan take from your trip to India? 

            Is there -- there's been some debate about whether there's any message for them.  Is there a message?  And also, have you given up on trying to open the supply routes -- the overland supply routes through Pakistan? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  No.  We are continuing to negotiate on the supply routes.  And you know, we are -- we are working to see if we can arrive at -- (inaudible) -- that will allow us to be able to do it, and do it in a way that obviously will meet our needs and, you know, meet the targets that we established with regards to, you know, what we can afford.  The -- so the answer to your question is yes.  We are -- we continue to work on that. 

            You know, with regards to -- you know -- you know, there's no larger messages here other than the importance, I think, for both the United States and India to continue to do whatever we can to try to improve the relationship and try to be able to achieve some steps forward in the relationship so that, you know, we can try to reduce the level of instability that oftentimes threatens, you know, not only our forces but, you know, threatens to undermine the stability of Pakistan.  Having a stable Pakistan is extremely important. 

            I mean, look -- you know, the -- you know, the three things that we're concerned about as we -- as we deal with the situation in Afghanistan are the following.  One is obviously the resilience of the Taliban and, you know, their ability to be able to, you know, develop new approaches to how they attack our forces and be able to respond to that and do it effectively. 

            Two, the safe havens, which continue to be a concern, particularly with the recent Haqqani attacks that we've seen and, you know, the continuing -- the continuing threat of having those who can come across the border, attack our forces and then escape into the safe haven in Pakistan.  And there, you know, we continue to urge Pakistan to deal with that and try to take on those terrorists who reside in the FATA (Federally Administrated Tribal Areas) who are conducting those kinds of attacks. 

            As I said at the institute, you know, these terrorists represent not just a threat to the United States, they represent a threat to Pakistan as well.  So it's in their interest to try to take steps to deal with it.  They've done it -- you know, in the past they have gone into Waziristan, and you know, we think it's really important that they continue to put pressure on the terrorists on that side as well. 

            The third area is just, you know, the amount of corruption that exists, you know, within all levels of the -- of the Afghan society and the ability to try to control that so that we can have stable governance there as we move into the future.  That's another area I think we've got to pay attention to.

            So you know, bottom line is, with regards to Pakistan, that it is, as I said, a complicated relationship, but it is a necessary relationship.  There are some important things that we have to do in their country.  There are some important things we have to do that -- in terms of protecting our security.  And you know, we have to -- we have to keep working with them to hopefully get their cooperation in that effort. 

            They are important to the stability of this region.  And for that reason, both the United States and India and others are going to have to do everything we can to try to do what is possible to improve the relationship. 

            Gopal. 

            MR. LITTLE:  We'll do a follow-up, couple more on Afghanistan, and then we'll go to Act II. 

            Q:  (Off mic.) 

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, there was a question in the institute.  One of them asked you about a Plan B, and I think you said we don't have a Plan B.  But I think the question -- the larger question was, is there any thinking about a United Nations-led regional peacekeeping-type mission that can take over or assist the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) as the drawdown begins?  I mean, you've said how important it is for both Pakistan and India that there is a stable Afghanistan and vice versa.  Why is that not a good idea, to think about a regional peacekeeping kind of an effort? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  I think -- you know, I think -- I think the effort right now is to implement General Allen's plan and, you know, complete the transitions, complete the effort of moving operational capability to the Afghans and continue the drawdown towards the end of 2014, and then the effort to develop the enduring presence beyond 2014, which is going to be, you know, not just the United States but ISAF working together to develop that enduring presence. 

            I -- you know, I think right now we've got to put all of our confidence in the ability of the -- of the ISAF forces to be able to help the Afghans make that transition, number one.  And number two, the key in the end is not going to be the U.N. or ISAF; it's going to be the Afghans and their capability to be able to secure their country.  And the whole effort right now is to ensure that they have that capability.  And that's the goal that we're really focusing on for the future. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Dan. 

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