News / USA

New US Defense Secretary Panetta Faces Many Challenges

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta
Meredith Buel

Leon Panetta, 73, will become the 23rd U.S. secretary of defense, replacing the retiring Robert Gates on July 1. 

Decade of war

The United States has been a nation at war for nearly a decade and the all-volunteer force has been stretched by years of combat.  More than 1,500 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan and the war has become increasingly unpopular with the American public.

While a third of the U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are to be withdrawn by the middle of next year, the new secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, says there is still significant work to be done.

“My first task at DOD [Department of Defense] will be to ensure that we prevail in the conflicts that we are engaged in," Panetta said. "In Afghanistan, we must continue to degrade the Taliban.”



Afghanistan drawdown


Travis Sharp, a military analyst at the Center for a New American Security, says the withdrawal from Afghanistan will be a significant issue facing Panetta.

“And we want to do that quite carefully," cautioned Sharp, "because if the drawdown is not done properly we could sacrifice some of the security gains that we have made in Afghanistan over the last year, thanks in large part to the troops that were added by President Obama.”

Bin Laden raid

Panetta comes to the Pentagon after serving as chief of the CIA, where he supervised the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.   Panetta has also been a strong supporter of increased drone attacks on al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents based along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

“We are engaged in the most aggressive operations in the history of the CIA in that part of the world and the result is that we are disrupting their leadership,” Panetta said.

Those drone attacks are very unpopular in Pakistan and managing the relationship with Islamabad is another major test for the new defense secretary.

US-Pakistan relations


Analyst Travis Sharp says Panetta will serve as a middleman between the United States and Pakistan.

“It will be a difficult balancing act and I think that there will be many bumps along the way," noted Sharp.  "But Panetta’s objective at the outset will be to try to maintain some semblance of a relationship between the United States and Pakistan because quite honestly the countries do need one another if they are going to cooperate and solve the terrorism problem.”

Expected cutbacks

Panetta is a former Democratic Party congressman with extensive budget experience.  He was chairman of the House Budget Committee and headed the White House budget office under President Bill Clinton.

American Enterprise Institute senior strategic analyst Gary Schmitt says Panetta’s biggest challenge will be to manage cutbacks in the Pentagon’s huge budget.

“If the administration has its way and there are hundreds of billions of dollars more in cuts, this is going to require significant downsizing of the U.S. military and force structure,” said Schmitt.

Spending shift

President Obama has ordered $400 billion in national security budget cuts during the next 12 years.  This will be a major shift after years of larger Pentagon budgets following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Panetta is well aware the days of nearly unlimited defense budgets are over.

“Our challenge will be to design budgets that eliminate wasteful and duplicative spending while protecting those core elements that we absolutely need for our nation’s defense,” he said.

The United States continues to face a large budget deficit and the U.S. military is spending $10 billion a month on the war in Afghanistan.

Analysts like Gary Schmitt say withdrawing troops from two conflicts does cut expenses.

“When you are sitting in the White House and you want to cut the deficit, getting troops out of Iraq and getting troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as you can does make a difference,” Schmitt said.

Panetta is the son of Italian immigrants and he served as a lieutenant in the Army in the 1960s. He and his wife Sylvia own a family farm in Carmel Valley, California.

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid