WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan believe the U.S. and its allies have "turned the tide" after 11 years of war.
In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Panetta said the international military coalition has reversed a five-year trend of growing violence. He said Afghan forces are on track to take the lead for securing the entire country next year.
Panetta spent two days in Afghanistan last week, consulting with top U.S. commanders and with Afghan government officials. He announced during his visit that President Hamid Karzai will come to Washington next month to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss the way ahead.
While Panetta offered an optimistic view of the Afghanistan war, he said that other threats to the U.S. - from al-Qaida-linked terrorists and cyberattacks to hostile powers such as Iran - are growing.
"The threats to our security and our global interests are not receding, as they appeared to do in past wars, coming out of World War II, coming out of Korea, coming out of Vietnam, coming out of the end of the Cold War, where the threats receded," Panetta said. "The fact is today we still confront these threats in the world, threats that are more complex, more dispersed, and in many ways, more dangerous."
And, he said, military commanders "believe that we have fundamentally turned the tide" in Afghanistan "after years in which we lacked the right strategy and the necessary resources to try to achieve the mission we are embarked on."
By all accounts, Panetta is in the final weeks of his tenure as Pentagon chief. He has long said he intends to return to California where his wife Sylvia continues to work at the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, which they founded in 1977. Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator, has been mentioned as a possible successor.