Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declined to discuss the number of U.S. troops he believes are necessary in Afghanistan after 2014 – saying those details are under discussion now – but said the “enduring presence” must be able to address counter terrorism threats, continue the training and assistance mission and provide “enabling capability” to continue supporting U.S. forces.
“The fundamental mission in Afghanistan is to establish an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself and ensure that al Qaeda never again finds a safe haven within Afghanistan from which to conduct attacks on the United States or any other country,” said Panetta.
The remarks, part of a joint press conference Thursday with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, came less than an hour after the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to confirm Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford as the next commander of international forces in Afghanistan.
In the meantime the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly for an accelerated withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting, reflecting the wishes of a war-weary nation.
The strong bipartisan vote of 62-33 sends a clear message to President Barack Obama and the military as they engage in high-stakes talks about the pace of drawing down the 66,000 U.S. troops there, with a White House announcement expected within weeks.
Although the vote was on a nonbinding amendment to a defence policy bill, its significance could not be discounted.