Saturday, July 9, 2011

Defense News: Panetta Assures Karzai of Continued Commitment

Defense News: Panetta Assures Karzai of Continued Commitment

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CAMP EGGERS, Afghanistan, July 9, 2011 - Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta assured President Hamid Karzai of the United States' continued, long-term commitment to Afghanistan during meetings in Kabul today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta meets with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 9, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"I assured him the U.S. is committed to the long-term security of the Afghan people," the secretary said following a dinner with the president. "Our goal here is to ensure that Afghanistan is stable in the future and can secure, defend and govern itself so it can never again become a safe haven for al-Qaida and its militant allies."

While it was the secretary's first meeting with Karzai in his new position, Panetta has dealt with the president while serving as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Panetta said he has a good relationship with the Afghan leader and that they will work together closely to ensure the relationship remains positive.

The goal is to establish a real partnership between the United States and Afghanistan, the secretary said.

Panetta said he believes the coalition and the Afghans are moving in the right direction in Afghanistan. He credits the military strategy in place and the resources provided by President Barack Obama and the American people.

The successes to date are giving the Afghans the opportunity "to establish their own independence free of Taliban influence," he said.

During the meeting Karzai and Panetta discussed the transition now underway to shift security responsibility to Afghan forces, Panetta said. Overall, seven areas – three provinces and four municipalities covering 25 percent of the population – will transition to Afghan responsibility.

"We can begin the process of drawing down our forces," Panetta said. "I think we've got the momentum on our side, President Karzai is supportive of President Obama's proposal and we are both confident that we can get this done in a way that not only protects the security of Afghanistan but ensures the Taliban cannot return to this country."

The United States will withdraw 10,000 troops by the end of the year and will draw down another 23,000 by the end of September 2012. That still leaves around 70,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Those troops "will continue the strategy and operations through 2014," Panetta said. "My goal is to make sure we can continue the effort to establish greater security in this country so we can transition to the Afghans."

Karzai and Panetta also discussed the quality of Afghan forces. The training effort is paying off, but there is more to do, Panetta said. Afghan officials told Panetta that they are looking to improve the quality of the officer and noncommissioned officer corps. "Bottom line is they have an increasing confidence in their military to do the job," he said.

Karzai asked Panetta how the United States managed to field an Army that was both professional and apolitical throughout its history.

"I said it began with George Washington making very clear that that's the way we ought to be operating," Panetta said. "I told him it would be well if he would do the same thing as president of this country."

Defense News: Pakistan May Have Sanctioned Reporter's Death: US

Defense News: Pakistan May Have Sanctioned Reporter's Death: US

The US military's top officer said that Islamabad may have sanctioned the killing of a Pakistani journalist, voicing grave concern over the murder.

Asked about media reports that the Pakistani government approved the killing of the reporter, Admiral Mike Mullen on Thursday said: "I haven't seen anything that would disabuse that report."

He said he was "concerned" about the incident and suggested other reporters had suffered a similar fate in the past.

"His (death) isn't the first. For whatever reason, it has been used as a method historically," Mullen told reporters at a Pentagon Press Association luncheon.

While acknowledging Pakistani officials have denied the government had any role in the death of Saleem Shahzad, Mullen said the episode raised worrying questions about the country's current course.

"It's not a way to move ahead. It's a way to continue to quite frankly spiral in the wrong direction," said Mullen, who has held numerous meetings with Pakistani counterparts during his tenure as chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mullen's remarks are sure to aggravate already strained relations between the uneasy allies after the US raid north of Islamabad in May that killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, which was carried out without Pakistan's knowledge.

Asked if Pakistan's intelligence service had been behind the killing of the journalist, Mullen said he could not confirm that allegation.

The New York Times, citing US officials, reported Monday that the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency ordered the killing of Shahzad to muzzle criticism.

The ISI has denied as "baseless" allegations that it was involved in the murder of Shahzad, who worked for an Italian news agency and a Hong Kong-registered news site.

Shahzad, who had reported about militants infiltrating the military, went missing en route to a television talk show and his body was found May 31 south of the capital, bearing marks of torture.

He disappeared two days after writing an investigative report in Asia Times Online saying Al-Qaeda carried out a recent attack on a naval air base to avenge the arrest of naval officials held on suspicion of links to the global terror network.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has ordered an inquiry into the kidnapping and murder, pledging that the culprits would be "brought to book."

Citing mounting tensions over the past year, Mullen acknowledged the US relationship with Pakistan is "under extraordinary pressure."

Even before the unilateral bin Laden raid, ties had become strained, Mullen said, particularly over the arrest of a CIA contractor in Pakistan who was charged with double murder before eventually being released.

"So we've been through a very, very rough time," he said.

Washington was "committed to sustaining that relationship," he continued.

"But we recognize it's under great stress right now and we need to see our way through it."

The military's top-ranking officer, who is due to step down at the end of September, confirmed the US military presence in Pakistan had been dramatically scaled back at Islamabad's request.

Despite growing frustration in the US administration over Pakistan's failure to crack down on militant sanctuaries near the Afghan border, Mullen said it would be a serious mistake to cut off financial aid to Islamabad, as some American lawmakers have urged.

"I think that would be a disaster now and it would be a disaster in the future," he said.

Shahzad death: Outrage in Pak over US allegation