Panetta: Afghanistan Withdrawal Conditioned, but not Modest

Beginning in July, US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan should be significant, but in keeping with the situation on the ground, Leon Panetta, CIA director and Defense Secretary nominee, told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing Thursday. Despite asserting that progress made in securing Afghanistan is both “fragile and reversible,” Panetta refused to commit to what Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), SASC ranking member, termed “modest” withdrawals. Pressed to define what he believed would be an appropriate level of withdrawal, Panetta emphasized the he was “not in that position now,” asserting that the decision lies with the President, current Defense Secretary, and US Central Command commander. Panetta did, however, express support for a continued US presence in Iraq after the end of the year, if the Iraqi government requests that, saying “that ought to be seriously considered by the President.” (Panetta’s responses to advance policy questions)