— U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says after more than 11 years the war in Afghanistan is “succeeding,” and will not be derailed by the recent series of insider attacks or any other tactic the enemy might use.
At a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, Panetta and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen denied that allies are being defeated on the battlefield or losing resolve. It has been a difficult period for NATO and its partners in Afghanistan, with reports of a resurgent Taliban and a series of deadly attacks in which Afghan security forces turned on their NATO colleagues.
Rasmussen said NATO's strategy is working, and the alliance timeline is on track for full Afghan security control next year and the withdrawal of most foreign combat forces by the end of the following year. He said troops will begin leaving in the coming months, but as part of the plan, not in a “rush to the exits.”
Panetta served notice on the Taliban that it will not be able to derail the NATO plan.
“As I said to my fellow ministers, we have come too far, we have fought too many battles, we have spilled too much blood not to finish the job that we are all about," he said. "Whatever tactics the enemy throws at us — IEDs [improvised explosive devices], insider attacks, car bombs — we will not allow those tactics to divide us from our Afghan partners, and we will not allow those tactics to divert us from the mission that we are dedicated to.”
Panetta said the allied effort is “succeeding” and “has turned an important corner,” but is still at a “critical point.” He also said the allies and the Afghan government must stick together.
“What tests the coalition is not so much the problem of insider attacks, but rather how effectively we respond to those attacks," said Panetta. "Partnering even closer will frustrate the enemy's designs to capitalize on this problem.”
The defense secretary called again on his NATO colleagues to fill the shortfall in trainers for Afghan forces. Despite years of such calls, Panetta said the alliance is still 58 teams short of what it needs. The training and mentoring of Afghan forces is a key element in the NATO effort to leave a stable country behind when it withdraws most of its forces.
NATO defense ministers also ordered a military planning effort to determine how many coalition troops to leave behind and for what purpose. They expect the plan to be finalized next year.