Leon E. Panetta Visits Afghanistan to Discuss Troop Levels

Although it is traditional for a defense secretary to visit troops in December ahead of the holidays, Mr. Panetta said a central goal of his trip was to discuss future deployment plans with Gen. John R. Allen, the top American commander. General Allen is preparing a range of proposals to guide American force levels after the NATO mission ends on the last day of December 2014.

Those options should be presented to the president “within the next few weeks,” Mr. Panetta said, and will help set the goal for the larger withdrawal schedules in the months ahead for the rest of the 66,000 American troops here. Mr. Panetta said that only after decisions are made on what the American force levels could be after 2014 would Mr. Obama and his national security team decide on the rate of withdrawal to reach that number over the next two years.

(General Allen remains in command while the Defense Department inspector general scrutinizes e-mails he exchanged with a Tampa socialite, although his nomination to be the supreme NATO commander is currently on hold.)

Mr. Panetta is making his fifth trip to Afghanistan as defense secretary and it is likely this will be his last, as it is widely anticipated that he will be among the cabinet members to retire early next year.

Mr. Panetta said the mission in Afghanistan was “on a far better path” than four years ago. But he acknowledged that significant challenges remained.

He specifically cited unreliable governance, continuing corruption, the existence of insurgent safe havens in Pakistan and a resilient Taliban insurgency within Afghanistan’s borders.

In more positive developments, the defense secretary said that Taliban insurgents had “not been able to regain any of the territory that they have lost during these last few years.” And he noted that so-called “insider attacks” on American and allied troops by assailants in Afghan uniforms have fallen to two killed in November from a high of 12 deaths in August.

Over all, though, insider attacks by Afghan security forces on their NATO coalition partners, while still small, are up significantly this year: there have been 37 so far, compared with 2 in 2007.

Mr. Panetta’s visit comes the same week that the Pentagon released a report that found that only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently without air or other military support from the United States and NATO.

The report, released Monday, found that violence in Afghanistan is higher than it was before the surge of American forces into the country two years ago, although it is down from a high in the summer of 2010.

As a bright spot, the report identified the continued transition by Afghan security forces into taking the lead on most routine patrols throughout the country and a decline in violence in populated areas like Kabul, the Afghan capital, and Kandahar, the largest city in the south.

Afghan security force levels have reached their goal of 352,000 soldiers and police officers.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/world/asia/panetta-visits-afghanistan-to-discuss-troop-levels.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

One Response to “Leon E. Panetta Visits Afghanistan to Discuss Troop Levels”

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