Camp Dwyer: US defence chief
Leon Panetta visited troops in southern Afghanistan on Sunday as
part of his first trip to the country since taking up his post
and ahead of a withdrawal of some US forces.
The former CIA director, who took office on July 1 to
replace Robert Gates, flew into Helmand province, where mostly
US forces are battling the nearly decade-long Taliban
His visit comes as commanders prepare to hand over seven
NATO-held areas to Afghan control starting in mid-July, but
amid widespread doubt over the ability of Afghan forces to
take full responsibility for their own security.
Panetta said yesterday that the focus of his trip would
be the handover to Afghan-led security, acknowledging that
there remained "a lot more work to do in terms of being able
to transition the responsibility to them".
"The key to success in Afghanistan is the ability to
successfully transition to the Afghans," he said after holding
high-level talks in the capital Kabul.
"That means they have to develop a capable military, a
capable police force, capable local militias that are going to
be able to maintain stability. That`s the key and that`s the
area we`re gonna focus on."
US President Barack Obama has announced that 10,000 US
forces will leave Afghanistan this year and another 23,000 by
the end of September 2012, ahead of a full withdrawal of
foreign forces in 2014.
The new Pentagon chief was to visit a field hospital in
Helmand and speak to US marines credited with reversing the
momentum of the Taliban in the province, one of the most
dangerous parts of the war-ravaged country.
General David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan
who is due to leave his post this month, said the overall
number of insurgent attacks on Afghan and foreign forces was
down, defying the expectations of intelligence analysts.
Attacks had decreased "a few percent" for May and June,
the beginning of the traditional annual fighting season, said
Petraeus, although he said the number of homemade bomb
explosions had risen.
"So you have the first two months of comparison with the
previous year is actually a reduction. July is trending that
way. That is very significant," he told reporters in the
Afghan capital yesterday.