News / USA

US Senate Panel Questions Defense Nominee on Troop Withdrawals, Budget Cuts

Defense Secretary nominee, CIA Director Leon Panetta, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing on his nomination, June 9, 2011
Defense Secretary nominee, CIA Director Leon Panetta, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing on his nomination, June 9, 2011
Cindy Saine

The Senate Armed Services Committee has held a hearing on President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta. Panetta, the current Central Intelligence Agency Director, was warmly received by the panel, but faced a number of tough questions on his ideas about the size and pace of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and plans by the president to cut the nation's defense budget.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the Senate panel quickly made clear in their remarks that Leon Panetta's confirmation to be the next Secretary of Defense by the full Senate is virtually certain. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina praised Panetta and then hit him with rapid fire questions on a number of challenges he will face.

"I just think the president has put together an A-plus national security team, and you are one of the lynchpins of that," said Graham. "So now some hard questions. [Both Graham and Panetta laugh]



Several senators gave Panetta credit for being the person President Obama put in charge of the operation to capture or kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Panetta said he believed the killing of bin Laden in May gave the United States the best chance it has had since September 11, 2001 to defeat the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Troop levels in Afghanistan was a major focus of the hearing. President Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan this July, with a goal of ending U.S. military operations in the country by the end of 2014. Democratic Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Carl Levin has called on the president to withdraw 15,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. Levin quoted the president as saying it is time for Afghans to start taking responsibility for their own future.

"The president has also said that the reductions starting in July will be quote significant, and not just a quote token gesture," said Levin. "I support that decision."

But there were also several senators on the panel worried that the progress achieved during ten years of U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan could be jeopardized by a hasty pull-out. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona:

"I would agree with Secretary Gates that any drawdown should be modest so as to maximize our ability to lock in the hard-won gains of our troops through the next fighting season," said McCain. 

Panetta refused to be pinned down on whether the reductions of U.S. troops from Afghanistan should be "modest" or "significant", saying only he agrees with the president that they should be "conditions-based."

Several senators expressed concern that any progress in Afghanistan is threatened by the terrorist safe havens in Pakistan, which enable terrorists to constantly cross over the border to attack U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Panetta said he shares these concerns, and the Obama administration has conveyed them to the Pakistani government.

"We need to have their cooperation, we need to have their partnership in confronting what frankly is a common enemy here," said Panetta. "You know terrorism just isn't our problem, it is their problem."

Asked about progress in Libya, Panetta said there are signs that military and economic pressure are showing “some signs” of working and that he expects they could force Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down if the United States and its NATO allies keep up the pressure on him.

If confirmed by the Senate, Panetta would take over the Pentagon at a time when the U.S. is involved in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and President Obama has called for an additional $400 billion in cuts to defense spending. Some senators said they do not want military decisions to be dictated by budgetary constraints. Panetta assured the panel that his first and foremost mission will always be to protect the United States.

"I do not believe based on my long experience in government and working with budgets that we have to choose between strong fiscal discipline and strong national defense," he said.

Panetta vowed to eliminate wasteful spending by the Pentagon, and said the country owes it to U.S. service members and their families to give them the best possible benefits and health care.

You May Like

Amnesty: EU Failing Migrants, Refugees

Rights group says migrants, refugees subject to detention, extortion, beatings More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office 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.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs