NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md., Jan. 20, 2012 – The U.S.
military is the world's best and it's on the right path to face the
challenges ahead, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta speaks
to military members and civilian workers at the Joint Strike Fighter
hangar at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., Jan. 20, 2012.
Panetta toured several facilities related to the F-35 Joint Strike
Fighter, which is in its test phases at the base. DOD photo by Erin
Speaking to a crowd of service members, civilians and local leaders
at a town hall meeting, Panetta said the military “has to be able to
make that turn as we head into the future.”
“We're at a
point, as you know, where the Iraq mission was brought to an end,
and it's now clearly up to the Iraqi people, to the Iraqi leaders to
make sure they stay on the right track,” he said. “That was the
whole point of the mission, was to make Iraq be able to govern and
The defense secretary also cited U.S.,
coalition and Afghan progress made in Afghanistan and NATO's success
in helping to topple a dictator in Libya.
“In Afghanistan, we
are making good progress there in transitioning to Afghan control
and security, and we remain committed to making sure that happens,”
Panetta said. “In Libya, we had a successful NATO mission that
bring down Gadhafi and return Libya to the Libyan people.”
Panetta noted the U.S. military has “significantly
impacted” al-Qaida operations. Al-Qaida chieftain Osama bin
Laden was killed in May 2011 in Pakistan by U.S. troops.
“Its leadership is decimated,” Panetta said of al-Qaida.
“It doesn't have the ability to put command and control
together to make the kind of plans for the kind of attacks
we saw on 9/11.
“We have successfully gone after
their leadership, and it's not just bin Laden, but a number
of leaders,” he continued. “But we need to continue that
“We need to keep going after them wherever
they go, whether it's Yemen or Somalia or North Africa,” he
added. “We need to continue the pressure on them. But we are
working to significantly weaken their capability. We've been
good at it.”
The defense secretary noted that “we're
moving in the right direction” by virtue of the men and
women in uniform doing “everything we've asked them to do.”
Panetta also said the current drawdown isn't like
previous drawdowns following World War II, the Korean War,
the Vietnam War or the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“This isn't like drawdowns in the past ... when the potential
enemy or the enemy that we were confronting, you know, was
disabled and in some way rendered ineffective,” he said.
“We're still confronting a number of threats in the world.”
“We're still fighting a war in Afghanistan,” Panetta
said. “We're facing threats from North Korea. We're facing
threats from Iran. We continue to face threats from the
proliferation of nuclear weapons, weapons of mass
The defense secretary also noted
threats from “rising powers” in Asia, continuing turmoil in
the Middle East, and in the cyber world where “the
battlefields of the future could very well be in cyber.”
“So at a time when we're at that turning point, at a
time when we're facing the budget challenges that we're
facing, we still have to be strong to confront the threats
that we face in the world,” Panetta said. “And so that's
been the challenge.”
After Congress mandated a
reduction of $487 billion in the defense budget over the
next 10 years, Panetta said he saw it as an “opportunity to
shape the defense system we need for the future.”
“Number one, we are and have to remain, the strongest
military in the world,” he said. “We are not going to back
off from our position of being the strongest military. If
we're going to confront those threats, if we're going to be
a world leader, we have got to maintain our military power.”
Panetta was also adamant about not hollowing out the
force which, he said, is a mistake “we've made in the past.”
“Every one of those drawdowns I talked about, there were
cuts across the board,” he said. “They took big numbers, cut
everything across the board, weakened everything across the
board ... we are not going to do that.”
secretary noted he'd looked at every budget area where
savings, efficiencies and balance can be achieved.
Despite current fiscal belt-tightening, the nation ““cannot
break faith with those that have served, men and women
who've deployed time and time and time again to the war
zone, who've been promised and committed to certain
benefits,” Panetta said.
“We have got to maintain
faith with them,” he added, “at the same time that,
obviously, we've got to deal with growing costs in the
The nation's national defense strategy,
Panetta added, always depends upon the quality of its
“And thank God we have the very best
fighting men and women in the world,” he said. “And thank
God we have the American people that are supportive of
making sure that we do everything possible to reach that
American dream of giving our kids a better life.”
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
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