Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declined to discuss the number of U.S. troops he believes are necessary in Afghanistan after 2014 – saying those details are under discussion now – but said the “enduring presence” must be able to address counterterrorism threats, continue the training and assistance mission and provide “enabling capability” to continue supporting U.S. forces.
The remarks, part of a joint press conference Thursday with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, came less than an hour after the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to confirm Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford as the next commander of international forces in Afghanistan.
Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, was nominated to succeed Marine Gen. John Allen in Afghanistan. Allen was nominated as the next head of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, but that nomination has been put on hold while the DOD inspector general investigates a trove of potentially inappropriate communications between Allen and a Tampa, Fla., socialite.
The Pentagon said earlier this week that it plans to tell the White House very soon how many American troops should remain in Afghanistan after 2014. The decision will be based on options presented by Allen to defense leaders.
Also Thursday, Panetta presented Barak with the highest honor he can grant a foreign leader, the DOD Medal for Distinguished Public Service. Panetta praised Barak’s “brilliant strategic mind” and “warrior heart,” noting that the minister is “fundamentally a man of peace” because he has seen war.
Panetta also gave Barak a signed, framed photo of the two at an Iron Dome site in Israel.
Barak, who recently announced he will leave political life, gave Panetta a miniature Iron Dome missile.