PENTAGON — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the war in Afghanistan has reached a turning point.
Speaking a few days after a trip to Afganistan, Panetta sounded optimistic Tuesday at a luncheon with members of the National Press Club in Washington.
*I had a chance to sit down with all of our military commanders throughout the region, throughout the country. I also went to Kandahar and met with our military commanders there and had the opportunity to meet with Afghan leaders as well. All of them believe that we have fundamentally turned the tide in that effort after years in which we lacked the right strategy and the necessary resources to try to achieve the mission we are embarked on,” Panetta said.
Panetta said the U.S. and its allies have reversed a five year trend of growing violence and noted that Taliban insurgents in the past year have been unable to regain any of the territory they lost.
Panetta said he expects insurgents to keep up their attacks to try to gain attention as allied forces withdraw ahead of a 2014 deadline.
A Pentagon report to Congress this month said insurgent attacks increased slightly this year.
On the U.S. budget impasse, Panetta had a warning for U.S. lawmakers who are working to reach a deal to avert a so-called fiscal cliff. He said a failure to reach agreement and the spending decisions are among the greatest threats facing the U.S. military today.
The U.S. defense department faces more losses than any other U.S. government agency if lawmakers do not reach a deal and automatic spending cuts of nearly 10 percent go into effect.
Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank in Washington says the cuts - totaling nearly $500 billion in a period of ten years - would be indiscriminate and could result in the loss of 80,000 jobs at the Department of Defense (DOD).
"Things like training, things like maintenance of equipment, things like DOD civilian personnel - these are civilians who work for DOD - they all are also going to be cut by 10 percent as well,” Harrison said.
In his remarks Tuesday, Panetta said lawmaker's failure to reach an agreement will weaken the United States in the minds of both its allies and its potential adversaries, and undermine the work and sacrifices that its troops are making.