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

US, Brazil's Climate-Change Plan: More Renewables, Less Deforestation

Officials say joint initiative on climate change will allow Brazil, United States to strengthen and accelerate cooperation on issues ranging from land use to clean energy More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

After Nearly a Century, Voodoo Opera Rises Again

Opera centers on character named Lolo, a Louisiana plantation worker and Voodoo priestess 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.
Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishui
X
Abdulaziz Billow
June 30, 2015 2:16 PM
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 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 Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
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.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs