IN THE NEWS: PANETTA ARRIVES IN AFGHANISTAN (JUNE 7, 2012)
Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten
Panetta Arrives in Afghanistan
SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal
Thursday, June 7, 2012
By JULIAN E. BARNES
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Kabul Thursday for talks with U.S. and Afghan officials amid a new spate of insurgent attacks and fresh outcry over civilian casualties of coalition air strikes.
Mr. Panetta is due to meet with Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan.
U.S. military leaders have expressed some concern with growing attacks in the country. On Wednesday two suicide bombers killed 22 people in a waiting area for trucks that deliver supplies to Kandahar Air Field. On the same day, the deadliest for Afghan civilians this year, a U.S. strike targeting a meeting of Taliban commanders in Logar province resulted in the deaths of women and children, according to witnesses.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke Wednesday at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi before flying on to Kabul Thursday.
U.S. officials are also concerned about a number of recent attacks attributed to the Haqqani network, which operates from Pakistan’s tribal area. Mr. Panetta said an increase in attacks had been anticipated and that he believes the Afghan government and security forces were continuing to improve.
“Afghanistan is making good progress at developing a stable country for the future,” he said in a roundtable with reporters on Wednesday. “They are developing very good security forces that can provide stability.”
In a question-and-answer session at a New Delhi think tank on Wednesday, Mr. Panetta was asked whether the U.S has backup plans for after 2014 if the Afghan security forces fail to keep the Taliban at bay.
Some Indian officials would like to see a peacekeeping force operating under United Nations authority in Afghanistan, a proposal Mr. Panetta rejected.
“We don’t have a plan B because we don’t need a plan B,” Mr. Panetta told the think tank, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
Later, Mr. Panetta told reporters that the U.S.-led International Security and Assistance Force is effectively training the Afghans and helping them take charge of the country.
“We have to put all our confidence in the ability of the ISAF forces to be able to help the Afghans make the transition,” he said. “The key in the end is not the U.N. or ISAF, it is the Afghans and their capability to secure their country.”
Mr. Panetta is expected to discuss the continuing issue of militants’ finding safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas. U.S. officials said they have not given up trying to persuade Pakistan to do more to put pressure on them there.
“The safe havens continue to be a concern, particularly with the recent Haqqani attacks we have seen and the continuing threat of those who come across our border, then escape across the border to Pakistan,” Mr. Panetta said.