Defense chief Panetta: Looming cuts would be ‘disastrous’ (WASHINGTON TIMES) By Sean Lengell 05/28/12)
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Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Sunday that more than $500
billion in defense-related cuts scheduled to kick in early next year
would be “disastrous” to national security and begged lawmakers to
restore the money.
The cuts were included in last summers bipartisan debt and budget
agreement that allowed the White House to raise the debt ceiling.
Since then, members of Congress from both parties have pushed to undo
the Pentagon’s portion of the $1.2 trillion “sequestration” budget
cuts that also target nondefense domestic programs.
“I think what both Republicans and Democrats need to do, and the
leaders of both sides, is to recognize that if sequester takes place,
it would be disastrous for our national defense, and very frankly,
for a lot of very important domestic programs,” Mr. Panetta said on
ABC’s “This Week.”
“They have a responsibility to come together and find the money
necessary to de-trigger sequester.”
Mr. Panetta said the Defense Department has been diligent about
trimming costs to help the federal government shrink its ballooning
debt and deficit.
“We provided a budget that, we think, meets not only the goal of
savings, but also, more importantly, protects a strong national
defense for this country,” he said.
However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has
taken a hard line on keeping the automatic cuts in place, saying last
week that he wouldn’t accept Republican attempts to do away with them.
In Sunday’s appearance on ABC’s “This Week,”Mr. Panetta also left
open the possibility of military strikes against Iran should
negotiations fail to halt the Islamic republic’s suspected nuclear
Mr. Panetta said that while he hopes the matter can be resolved
diplomatically, the Pentagon has developed multiple plans to deal
with threats “in that part of the world.”
“The international community has been unified. We’ve put very tough
sanctions on them, as a result of that,” he said. But “we have plans
to be able to implement any contingency we have to in order to defend
The secretary’s words were in response to a question about recent
comments made by American ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro that
the U.S. already has made preparations for a potential strike on Iran.
The U.S. and five other nations in recent days have been in talks
with Iran regarding its nuclear program.
On Afghanistan, Mr. Panetta said the U.S. will continue to have
an “enduring presence” in the country after a planned major pullout
of U.S. and NATO forces there by the end of 2014.
“The most important point is that we’re not going anyplace,” he
said. “We’ll continue to work with [Afghan officials] on
counterterrorism. We’ll continue to provide training, assistance,
guidance. We’ll continue to provide support.”
The heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees, upon
returning from a trip to Afghanistan earlier this month, said the
Taliban has grown stronger since President Obama’s deployment of
33,000 more troops to Afghanistan in 2010.
But Mr. Panetta said that U.S. forces continue to make “good
progress” fighting the Taliban, and that the rebel insurgency, though
resilient, has been weakened.
“We have not seen them able to conduct any kind of organized attack
to regain any territory that they’ve lost,” he said. “We’ve seen the
levels of violence going down. We’ve seen an Afghan army that is much
more capable at providing security.”
The secretary said he is still concerned about a high level of
corruption in Afghan society and about Taliban safe havens in
neighboring Pakistan. But he said that Marine Corps Gen. John R.
Allen, the top allied commander in Afghanistan, “has laid out a plan
that moves us in the direction of an Afghanistan that can truly
govern and secure itself.”
“That is going to be our greatest safeguard to the potential of the
Taliban ever coming back,” he said.
Mr. Panetta also repeated U.S. criticisms of Pakistan for convicting
a doctor who helped find Osama bin Laden in that country, calling the
33-year prison term “disturbing” and saying Dr. Shakil Afridi “was
not working against Pakistan.”
Dr. Afridi had run a vaccination program that helped the CIA collect
DNA samples that confirmed bin Laden was in the Pakistani town of
Abbottabad. Mr. Panetta said the treason conviction is casting a pall
over the “complicated” relationship between the two countries.
“It’s an up-and-down relationship. There have been periods where
we’ve had good cooperation, and they have worked with us.,” he
said. “What they have done here does not help in the effort to try to
re-establish a relationship between the United States and Pakistan.”
(© 2012 The Washington Times, LLC. 05/28/12)
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