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Entries in Leon Panetta (24)

Monday
Feb252013

Panetta Will Watch Hagel Confirmation from Home in California

DoD photo(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has no plans to come back to Washington to attend Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing, scheduled to take place Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Monday.

Panetta, who is at home in California, will watch it on C-SPAN, Little said.

Over the last few weeks Panetta has openly expressed frustration with Congress over the confirmation hold-up of the former Republican senator. At an event honoring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nearly two weeks ago, Panetta joked that Congress should give him a Valentine’s Day gift and let him and his wife “get the hell out of town.”

But that wish was not to be, as Senate Republicans pushed the vote until after the congressional recess, forcing Panetta to take one more trip as defense secretary to Brussels for the NATO defense ministers summit last week. Following the meeting, he returned to California, where Little says he will stay.

Panetta has also expressed dismay over the budget cuts the Pentagon will be forced to make if sequestration happens on March 1.  Last week he notified Congress of the potential 800,000 civilian employees who will have to be furloughed if the sequestration happens.

“For more than a year and a half, the president, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I have repeatedly voiced our deep concerns over the half a trillion dollars in automatic across-the-board cuts that would be imposed under sequestration and the severe damage that would do both to this department and to our national defense,” Panetta said in a letter to Pentagon employees. “I can assure you that, if we have to implement furloughs, all affected employees will be provided at least 30 days’ notice prior to executing a furlough and your benefits will be protected to the maximum extent possible.”

For months, Little has been communicating to journalists and the public about how deeply these cuts will hurt the defense department and America’s national security.

Last week, Little told reporters traveling with the secretary to the NATO meeting that the sequester will not only harm America’s military readiness, but also its military commitments around the world. Little said that, for example, training with European allies and rotational deployments of U.S. forces to Europe could be affected.

“You put this all together, lack of U.S. readiness equals NATO lack of readiness,” he said.

He reiterated that point to reporters Monday.

“We have not been overhyping this,” he said. “This is something we have been very forthright about for 18 months, and we will continue to express our opposition to a mechanism that will do harm to our national defense and could — if taken to the absurd extreme — hollow out the force.”

But Little is not only the Pentagon’s messenger on sequestration; he, too, would be directly affected. The position of Defense Department Spokesperson is not politically appointed and not subject to Senate confirmation, so he would not be eligible for a furlough exemption.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Feb142013

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel? Not So Fast

US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was hoping Thursday would be his last day at the Pentagon.  The White House was hoping it would have a new Defense Department secretary by Friday.

But not so fast.  It now looks like Democrats don’t have the votes to get Hagel confirmed -- at least not yet.

That’s because Republicans are determined to block a straight up-or-down vote -- at least for now -- until Hagel turns over more information on his financial disclosure form and the Obama administration answers more questions about last year’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Democrats are attempting to force a clean vote by Friday, but will need 60 votes to overcome Republican objections.  And, as of right now, top Senate Democratic aides say they fear they don’t have the votes.

Ultimately, it would seem that Hagel is a shoe-in: All 55 Senate Democrats support him and so do two Republicans (Sens. Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Thad Cochran of Mississippi).  Three others have suggested they might oppose him but would not filibuster his nomination (Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska).  Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has said the same thing.

But here’s the catch: Republicans are saying Hagel and the White House have stonewalled their requests for documents related to his nomination and that’s why they won’t allow a vote at this time.

An aide to Blunt told ABC News that the senator does not think there should be a vote this week because Hagel, 66, has not turned over all the requested information and, Blunt believes, the Senate has not fully debated the nomination.

The most serious issue is a Feb. 6 letter signed by 20 senators demanding more information on his financial disclosure (speeches, foreign income, etc.).  Hagel and the White House have refused to comply. 

Others, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are demanding more information on Benghazi.

Panetta has made no secret of his desire to get back to his home in Monterey, Calif., but a senior Defense Department official told ABC News that Panetta is prepared to stay in office until Hagel is confirmed. 

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan102013

Panetta Orders First Real Sequestration Preparations; Warns of Perfect Storm

Department of Defense Photo by Glenn Fawcett(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Panetta isn’t waiting for another round of sequestration anticipation -- he’s taken action and announced the first preparations for possible budget cuts in March.

In the previous countdown to sequestration and the fiscal cliff Panetta just wished it would go away.  But not this time.  Sequestration would mean $500 billion in Defense spending cuts triggered if there’s no increase to the debt ceiling.   
 
“We really have no choice but to prepare for the worst,” Mr. Panetta said at a news conference Thursday afternoon with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He later said, “We simply cannot sit back now.”
 
Panetta has directed the military services to immediately implement what he called “prudent measures that will help mitigate our budget risk” from sequestration.  This includes a freeze on the hiring of civilians, a delay in awarding contracts and trimming facility maintenance.  He’s also directed the services to come up with detailed planning for how they’d implement sequestration because there really isn’t much time left in the fiscal year.   The planning would include unpaid furloughs for the civilian workforce.
 
“For now, I've made clear that these actions must be reversible to the extent feasible and must minimize harmful effects on readiness. But we really have no choice but to prepare for the worst,” Panetta said. He doesn’t know how much the moves will save.
 
Panetta’s opening statement also contained a warning about a “perfect storm of budget uncertainty” that could affect the Pentagon budget in March: possible sequestration cuts on March 1, the March 27 end of the temporary funding measure known as the Continuing Resolution, and an $11 billion cut in Army and Marine spending to keep funding the war in Afghanistan if the cuts take place.
 
“And the fact is, looking at all three of those, we have no idea what the hell's going to happen. All told, this uncertainty, if left unresolved by the Congress, will seriously harm our military readiness,” he said.
 
Panetta warned that while sequestration is supposed to trim nine percent from the DOD budget, the combination of the three factors above will actually total 19 to 20 percent in Pentagon cuts.  He said the impact on the Army would actually feel like a 30-percent cut.
 
Those kinds of cuts would lead to serious training cuts for Army units, reductions in ship training, cuts in flying hours for pilots and ships being pulled out of maintenance.  
 
Gen. Dempsey also warned that March could “set the conditions for readiness to pass a tipping point.”   
 
He added, “Our readiness will begin to erode. Within months, we'll be less prepared. Within a year, we'll be unprepared.”
 
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan032013

Panetta Thanks Congress for Suspending Deep Pentagon Spending Cuts

Department of Defense Photo by Glenn Fawcett(WASHINGTON) -- One person who breathed a particularly huge sigh of relief after Tuesday's congressional compromise on the fiscal cliff was Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

He had already braced the Pentagon to be ready for a series of deep budget cuts known as sequestration that would total around $500 billion over 10 years.  However, the bill passed by the House and Senate puts those spending reductions on hold for at least two months.

Panetta, who plans on retiring soon, issued a statement Wednesday expressing gratitude to lawmakers from both parties for putting a temporary halt to sequestration, adding, "Hopefully, this will allow additional time to develop a balanced deficit reduction plan that would permanently prevent these arbitrary cuts."

For the past year, since Congress approved the budget cuts to help bring down the nation's debt, Panetta has been on a campaign to get members of Congress to change their minds on sequestration, saying it "would have a devastating impact on the department."

Panetta acknowledged that he "would have been required to send out a notice to our 800,000 civilian employees that they could be subject to furlough" if the fiscal cliff compromise had not been reached.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec052012

Republican in Line to Become Next Pentagon Chief?

Junko Kimura/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Is President Obama ready to nominate a Republican to a high-profile Cabinet spot?

With Leon Panetta talking about stepping down from his post as defense secretary, rumors are circulating around the Beltway that Obama could tap former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to take the top spot at the Pentagon.

Since leaving the Senate in 2008, Hagel co-chairs the president's Intelligence Advisory Board and is a professor at Georgetown University.

A conservative in both economic and social issues, Hagel established himself as one of the first Republicans to question the U.S. occupation of Iraq after it became apparent there would be no hasty departure from that war.

Senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts are also regarded as contenders for defense secretary, although Kerry would much prefer taking over the position soon to be vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

 Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Aug042012

New Military Legal Board to Review Civilian Casualty Cases

Department of Defense Photo by Glenn Fawcett(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has asked the Pentagon to review the way the military’s legal justice system processes cases in combat zones where U.S. troops have committed criminal offenses against civilians.  In a memo released Friday Panetta said the review will look at cases where U.S. service members are “alleged to have caused the death injury or abuse of non-combatants in Iraq or Afghanistan.”  

Panetta says the application of military justice remaining fair and credible in such cases “is of particular concern to me.  We know that, over the last 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, bad things have happened involving combat excesses and innocent civilians in deployed areas.”
 
He’s ordered the creation of a new Pentagon Defense Legal Policy Board, that will be made of prominent legal experts and former military commanders.  Among the former senior military leaders who will participate in the review are retired Army General Pete Chiarelli and retired Marine Lt. Gen. John Sattler.

A board subcommittee will be tasked with looking at how the U.S. military justice system can be improved given its experience in the past 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
In announcing the review, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson said the group won’t be reviewing the judgments in individual cases like that of Sgt. Robert Bales, the alleged shooter in the murders of 16 Afghan civilians in March.  Instead, they’ll look broadly at cases over the past decade and come up with recommendations for ways to improve reporting and working with local and national law enforcement officers.  
 
The panel will have until next March to present its findings.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May292012

President Obama’s Decisions on Counter-Terrorism in Spotlight

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Two stories Tuesday, from the New York Times’ Jo Becker and Scott Shane, and excerpts of Daniel Klaidman’s new book Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, published in The Daily Beast, focus some attention on decisions made by President Obama in the name of counter-terrorism.

On ABC’s This Week, Jake Tapper asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about one of these controversial areas – the rampant use of U.S. drones. Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence wrote in The New York Times, “As the drone campaign wears on, hatred of America is increasing in Pakistan. American officials may praise the precision of the drone attacks, but in Pakistan, news media accounts of heavy civilian casualties are widely believed. Our reliance on high-tech strikes that pose no risk for our soldiers is bitterly resented in a country that cannot duplicate such feats of warfare without cost to its own troops.” More recently The Times of London reported that the civilian casualties in Yemen as a result of drone strikes have, “emboldened Al Qaeda.”

Tapper asked Panetta: Is there not a serious risk that this approach to counterterrorism, because of its imprecision, because of its civilian casualties, is creating more enemy than it is killing?

“First and foremost, I think this is one of the most precise weapons that we have in our arsenal,” he said. “Number two, what is our responsibility here? Our responsibility is to defend and protect the United States of America. There are those who have no other intent but to attack this country. We saw three potential bombers that were trying to get on planes to come here and attack this country. We’ve seen past attacks taking place. We’ve seen those that continue to – to indicate that they’re planning every day to try to attack this country. We have got to defend the United States of America. That’s our first responsibility. And using the operations that we have, using the systems that we have, using the weapons that we have, is absolutely essential to our ability to defend Americans. That’s what counts, and that’s what we’re doing.”

This attitude is visible in Tuesday’s stories.

The Times story begins in January 2010, with the president going through a “Kill List,” which included mug shots and biographies of U.S. terrorist targets, some of whom were Americans, two of whom were teenagers. “How old are these people?” the president asked. “If they are starting to use children,” he said of Al Qaeda, “we are moving into a whole different phase.”

The Times noted that President Obama “embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent. Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it ‘guilt by association’ that has led to ‘deceptive’ estimates of civilian casualties.”

The article goes on to describe how President Obama brings his own judgment to decisions about the Kill List. Early requirements that officials have “near certainty” that no innocents would be killed have fallen by the wayside. In August 2009, the CIA had Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in its sights, and not only was that standard not met, there would almost certainly be innocents killed. The president gave the order; Mehsud his wife and likely other family members were all killed.

The Klaidman excerpt describes the president pushing back on a 2009 effort by generals to take the “war on terror” into Somalia, home to al Qaeda ally Al-Shabab. The president, after some debate, said, “If there is a person in the camp who is a clear threat to the United States we should go after him. But carpet bombing a country is a really bad precedent. I ask you to consider: where are we taking this activity? Because the logical next thing after carpet bombing is that we go there and open up a new front.”

Klaidman also takes a look at Harold Hongju Koh and Jeh C. Johnson, “the top lawyers at the State Department and the Pentagon, respectively, (who) exercised considerable influence over counterterrorism operations. But their ideological differences-Koh a liberal idealist who had served as the Clinton administration’s top human-rights official, and Johnson a pragmatic centrist and former prosecutor-colored their legal interpretations. Koh could be brusque and tactless with his colleagues, though he would just as easily break into boyish giggles when something amused him. Johnson, a former partner in a white-shoe Manhattan law firm, was restrained in manner, and a deft inside operator.

“For most of Obama’s first term, the two men fought a pitched battle over legal authorities in the war on al Qaeda. Like Johnson, Koh had no problem going after AQ’s most senior members. But things got murkier when the military wanted to kill or capture members of other jihadist groups. Johnson took a more hawkish position, arguing that the United States could pursue AQ members or ‘co-belligerents’ more expansively.”

The excerpt describes Johnson approving his first targeted killings, watching the live battlefield feed, and then hearing “reports from human-rights groups that dozens of women and children had been killed in the attacks, reports that a military source involved in the operation termed ‘persuasive.’ Johnson would confide to others, ‘If I were Catholic, I’d have to go to confession.’”

WATCH JAKE TAPPER'S INTERVIEW WITH LEON PANETTA:

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

 

Monday
May282012

On Iran, Top Pentagon General Stresses Defense

(NEW YORK) -- The top member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff  Monday described the U.S. military posture in the Persian Gulf  as “defensive and deterrent” with regard to Iran.

Gen. Martin Dempsey would not say at what point the troubled U.S. diplomatic relationship with Iran over the country’s nuclear program would or could escalate.

“That’s not my call to make,” Dempsey said during a Memorial Day appearance on “Good Morning America.” “My job is to provide options on behalf of the joint chiefs and the combatant commanders to the commander in chief, who will then determine when the current track, which as you know emphasizes political, diplomatic and economic sanctions  … is exhausted.”

Dempsey’s comments came the day after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta struck a resolute tone against Iran during an interview on “This Week” with ABC’s Jake Tapper.

“The fundamental premise is that neither the United States nor the international community is going to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. We will do everything we can to prevent them from developing a weapon,” said Panetta. “International community’s been unified. We’ve put very tough sanctions on them as a result of that, and we are … prepared for any contingency in that part of the world. But our hope is that these matters can be resolved diplomatically.”

Tapper pointed to recent comments made by the U.S. ambassador to Israel that the U.S. is “ready from a military perspective to carry out a strike on Iran.”

Panetta said, “One of the things that we do at the Defense Department, Jake, is plan. And we have plans to be able to implement any contingency we have to in order to defend ourselves.”

Dempsey echoed that language about defense and emphasized that the U.S. is already engaged in other operations in that part of the world.

“I’ve got – we’ve got – forces postured in the Gulf for any number of reasons. Some in support of Afghanistan. Some that are still in the process of flowing out after the end of a long war in Iraq, and those forces can be turned, but there are no …  I would describe our current stance in the Gulf as defensive and deterrent in nature,” he said.

Dempsey also discussed the coming drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan before the planned cease of combat operations for NATO forces at the end of 2014, and also reflected on the sacrifices of the fallen on Memorial Day.

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 Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Sunday
May272012

Leon Panetta Dismisses Romney’s Afghanistan Criticism

ABC(NEW YORK) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta dismissed presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s criticism of President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, saying it is appropriate for the U.S. to set a date certain for ending military operations in the country at the end of 2014.

At a campaign event on Feb. 1, Romney called out Panetta for outlining plans for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, where the U.S. has fought since 2001.

“You just scratch your head and say how can you be so misguided? And so naïve?” Romney said of Obama’s Afghanistan strategy. “His secretary of defense said that on a date certain … we’re going to pull out our combat troops from Afghanistan … Why in the world do you go to the people that you’re fighting with and tell them the day you’re pulling out your troops?”

But in a This Week interview, Panetta countered that the timeline has been the long-time plan first put in motion under President Bush, and confirmed by President Obama and NATO leaders at a summit in Chicago last week.

“I think you’ve got 50 nations in NATO that agree to a plan in Afghanistan,” Panetta said on This Week. “It’s to take us to a point where we draw down by the end of 2014 … That is the plan that has been agreed to. And it’s a plan that is working.”

“And very frankly, the only way to get this accomplished in terms of the transition that we have to go through is to be able to set the kind of timelines that have been set here in order to ensure that we fulfill the mission of an Afghanistan that governs and secures itself,” Panetta added.

While the U.S. has worked to transition control of security to Afghan forces, concerns remain that the Taliban may be able to re-assert control over the country after U.S. and NATO forces withdraw.

But Panetta said the U.S. is making progress, and will maintain “an enduring presence” in the country, aiding in counter-terrorism and training efforts beyond 2014 in order to combat the return of the Taliban or al Qaeda.

“The world needs to know that we still have a fight on our hands,” Panetta said. “We’re still dealing with the Taliban. Although they’ve been weakened, they are resilient … But we’re on the right track.”

And on this Memorial Day weekend, Panetta said it was important to “get the mission accomplished” in Afghanistan to honor the service members who have died there.

“I think all of us have to be constantly vigilant that whatever battle we engage in, that we not only achieve the mission but we make damn sure that we do everything possible to ensure that every life was lost for a cause that we still commit ourselves to,” Panetta said.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Apr162012

Panetta Introduces Initiatives to Fight Sexual Assault in the Military

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon proposed initiatives Monday aimed at curtailing sexual assault in the armed forces. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the measures on Capitol Hill after closed-door meetings on the issue with members of Congress.

Calling the crime a “violation of everything that the U.S. military stands for,” Panetta said he hoped Congress would adopt the package into the 2012 defense budget.

At least one key measure will be enacted immediately by the secretary’s own executive order. Central to the proposed regulations is the elevation of the most serious reports to the attention of a Special Court Martial Convening Authority, an officer that holds at least the rank of colonel. Panetta says the heightened status would keep cases from being forgotten at the unit level.

“At the local unit level sometimes these matters are put aside, they’re not followed up with,” Panetta said. “This requires that any time a complaint is received that it is referred up the chain of command for action.”

Panetta said he plans to issue the mandate in the next few days.

In addition to new training for troops and their commanders, the proposed regulations include new centralized records of disciplinary proceedings stemming from incidents, as well as more therapeutic outlets for victims. The Pentagon will also provide investigators specially trained for dealing with assault victims and evidence collection -- what the department is calling “Special Victims Unit” capabilities.

While admitting there was no “silver bullet” to curtailing sexual assault, Panetta said responsibility for prevention lay with every service member from the top down.

“The most important thing we can do is prosecute the offenders, deal with those who have broken the law,” he said.

Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey were joined at the press conference by members of the Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus. Co-chair Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., said every lawmaker present had their own stories from military constituents.

“For me it was a nurse, someone who had served multiple times both in Iraq and in Afghanistan,” she said. “When I asked if it were true, the statistics, she said, ‘Ma’am, I am more afraid of my own soldiers than I am of the enemy.’”

Tsongas said she hoped the measures would curtail “the same alarming statistics that we hear over and over again.”

The announcement comes days after a Defense Department report indicated incidents of sexual assault in the military had risen slightly in the last year. In a report issued Friday the Pentagon said 3,192 claims involving U.S. service members as perpetrators or victims had been reported in budget year 2011, an uptick of one percent since 2010. The trend has stayed relatively the same since 2009, which saw 3,230 reports filed.

The military says 56 percent of incidents are carried out by service members against their peers. An estimated 86 percent of incidents are not reported.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio