Afghan President Meets With US Defense Leaders at Pentagon

US Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta hosts an arrival ceremony with full honors to welcome Afghan President Hamid Karzai to the Pentagon, Jan. 10, 2013

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Washington, DC – Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s meetings with top US defense officials here today (Jan. 10) has helped lay the groundwork for his discussions with President Barack Obama tomorrow, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said.

Karzai and Panetta believe the plan adopted at the Chicago NATO summit last year is working, and they are “fully committed to finishing the job,” Panetta said during a Pentagon news conference.

Panetta told Karzai that President Obama’s pick to lead DOD, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, will be equally committed to working with him toward these goals.

President Obama and President Karzai will hold a White House press conference tomorrow to announce the results of their discussions.

The NATO combat mission in the country ends at the end of 2014. It remains to be determined how many American/NATO troops will remain for training and equipping Afghan forces and the counterterrorism mission.

Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have presented options and numbers to the National Security Staff and will brief President Obama on those options sometime in the future.

Dempsey, who accompanied Panetta during the briefing, said that no set of options are off the table.

“It’ll depend on the conditions,” the general said. “We react … to a certain set of parameters. What’s the mission? What’s the requirements to protect the force while it’s accomplishing that mission? Over what period of time?”

Dempsey said the department has provided options, but he will not get more specific until President Obama has been briefed.

The United States has poured blood and treasure into Afghanistan for 11 years now, Panetta said, and there are tough times even now. “But the fact is that we have also made as lot of progress as a result of the sacrifices that have been made,” the secretary said.

The US, NATO and Afghan efforts have taken the fight to the Taliban and seriously weakened it. More than 75 percent of the Afghan population live in areas where Afghan forces maintain security, Panetta said.

“I think over these next two years, we really have the opportunity to be able to put this in the right place to complete this mission,” the secretary said. “We are not going to walk away from the sacrifices that have been made over these last 10 years.”

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