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American Forces Press Service

Panetta Details New Realities, Command Change in Afghanistan

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Oct. 10, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta today detailed new realities of the coming year in Afghanistan and announced leadership changes for NATO and the International Security Assistance Force.

In remarks at a conference of NATO defense ministers here, the secretary described the coalition’s significant progress and remaining challenges and asserted that those who have given their lives in the fight did so for a noble purpose.

“Eleven years ago this week, on Oct. 7, 2001, our forces began a long fight against al-Qaida,” Panetta said. “They also embarked on a mission to help the people of Afghanistan defend their country and determine their destiny.

“Every nation represented at this table has sacrificed for that cause over the past decade,” he continued. “We in the United States have lost 2,000 of our precious sons and daughters, nations of this coalition have lost hundreds, and the Afghans have lost thousands.”

Fighting together, the secretary said, ISAF and Afghan forces have delivered serious blows to the enemy and brought about a turning point in the campaign and for those who will lead it. He announced that President Barack Obama will nominate Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, who has commanded ISAF since July 2011, to succeed Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis as commander of U.S. European Command and to serve as NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe.

“General Allen is well known to all of you, and if confirmed, his experience as [ISAF commander] will be instrumental in his broader role and in leading NATO’s oversight of the mission in Afghanistan,” Panetta said.

Obama also will nominate Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., now assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, to succeed Allen in Afghanistan.

“[Dunford] is an exceptionally gifted strategic leader,” the secretary said. “He is combat-tested. He believes in ISAF, and if confirmed, will be an extraordinary leader of it.” Stavridis will stay on at NATO until spring, Panetta said, thanking the admiral for his service.

In addition to the campaign’s evolution, success in Afghanistan going forward depends on the coalition partnership with Afghan forces and the response to insider attacks, the secretary said.

“A key challenge ISAF faces over the next two years is to plan and resource for the mid-2013 milestone and for the end of transition in December 2014. We must meet that challenge together,” he said, and described new realities for the coming year as ISAF ends its combat mission and assumes an advise-and-assist role in preparing Afghan forces to take full security responsibility for their country.

These include:

-- The operation of fewer bases;

-- A net flow of equipment out of Afghanistan;

-- U.S. enabler support for ISAF partners that will continue, but will change its scope as coalition members jointly reduce forces; and

-- The continued stepping back of ISAF forces as Afghan forces assume full security responsibility.

“While we have yet to determine the necessary size and composition of the force that will remain in Afghanistan after 2014, NATO’s presence should be steadfast and effective,” Panetta said.

The alliance must follow through on the commitments its political leaders made at NATO’s Chicago summit in July, he added, including implementation of the framework for transition in Afghanistan They made at NATO’s November 2010 summit in Lisbon, Portugal. At the Lisbon summit, NATO agreed to hand over security responsibilities to Afghan national security forces by the end of 2014.

On the coalition partnership with Afghan forces, Panetta said commanders on the ground believe the security force assistance team model is a game-changing approach to fielding an effective fighting force.

“We’ve invested a great deal in helping develop Afghan security forces,” the secretary said. “Now, we must do everything we can to help them successfully transition and take the lead for security throughout all of Afghanistan as planned next year.”

Panetta urged each nation to help in eliminating the shortfall of 58 security force assistance teams by a force-generation conference scheduled next month. He said the United States has filled a disproportionate number of such teams and needs help to close the gap.

On insider attacks, Panetta said the enemy intends to use them to undermine mutual trust and cohesion and drive a wedge between the coalition and its Afghan partners.

“We can only deny the enemy its objective by countering these attacks with all of our strength, and fortifying our resolve with the signs of our progress,” the secretary told his NATO counterparts.

In a briefing to the ministers, Panetta said, Allen laid out the strategy for working with Afghan partners to diminish and defeat the threat, including:

-- Enhanced training before deployment and in the field that emphasizes cultural awareness, counterintelligence techniques, vigilance and real-time information sharing;

-- Adaptive levels of partnering based on continuous review of threat information;

-- Expanded vetting and counterintelligence operations by coalition forces and Afghan partners;

-- Constant emphasis on effective use of “guardian angels” and other protective measures to deter attackers and ensure a quick response when an attack begins; and

-- Ongoing efforts to analyze attack patterns and develop stronger prevention methods.

Panetta said he believes these efforts, along with the full partnership of Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and Interior Minister Mujtaba Patang, will counter the threat.

The problem of insider attacks is not what tests the alliance, Panetta said. “What tests us is how we respond to them,” he told his fellow ministers. “Still deeper partnerships, still deeper integration -- those are the responses that will frustrate the enemy’s designs to capitalize on this problem.”

Panetta urged unity among the defense ministers in their thinking about the mission in Afghanistan.

“We, the defense leaders of this historic alliance, preserve a legacy of mutual determination and sacrifice in the face of danger and difficulty,” he said. “By uniting our powers to finish the long fight in Afghanistan, we will honor that legacy and pass it intact to future generations in the North Atlantic area and beyond.”

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