Lifelong bureaucrat Leon Panetta took over as the 23rd Secretary of Defense on this day last year. He took to the Pentagon press room with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey to rail against sequestration and highlight progress he’s seen in Afghanistan.
Sequestration continues to dominate the defense dialogue in Washington D.C. with the potential hack of an additional $500 billion out of the defense budget. Panetta has made sure to use each of his speaking engagements to coax Congress into action and eliminate the uncertainty over whether the Republicans and Democrats can strike a deal before the deadline.
Panetta told the Pentagon press corps that sequestration stands as the “biggest threat” to “the health of our force, to the well-being of our service members and our families.” Dempsey piled on saying he’s been upset to see how worried troops are over the budget and the potential for sequestration.
“They have enough to worry about,” Dempsey said in a message to Congress.
In Panetta’s opening remarks he listed some of the highlights of his first year in office. One such highlight was the progress he’s seen in Afghanistan. Barbara Starr, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, asked the defense secretary if he could explain what progress he’s seen and detail the morale of service members deployed to Afghanistan.
Panetta and Dempsey responded saying during their visits to Afghanistan, service members have remained upbeat despite talk about the withdrawal from the country scheduled next year. Panetta got especially emotional when he spoke about his visit with wounded troops who have told him to not let the U.S. leave Afghanistan.
“They just want to get back in the fight,” the defense secretary said.
Reporters also asked the two about the increased violence in Iraq. A U.S. government report was released this week outlining how numerous reconstruction projects funded by U.S. tax payer dollars have been abandoned in Iraq. Dempsey plans on visiting Iraq in August “because it’s the most miserable month of the year.” Panetta said the U.S. remains engaged with Iraq and continues to support the country’s leadership.
In neighboring Syria, Panetta said he does not anticipate any further hostile actions after the Syrian military shot down a Turkish aircraft. Dempsey has spoken with the head of the Turkish military and commended his leadership for not taking further actions even though two of their airmen were killed in the attack.
In response to the reports of wide spread sexual assaults at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, site of the Air Force’s basic training, Panetta said he was “very concerned” to see recruits allegedly assaulted at such a “vulnerable” time for them.
“This matter I can assure you will be fully investigated,” Panetta told the press corps.