WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Defense Secretary nominee Leon Panetta said Thursday that he backed President Barack Obama’s call for withrawing significant numbers of American troops from Afghanistan starting in July.
US Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin asked Panetta, who has served Obama as CIA chief, whether he agreed with the president that the pending withdrawal should be “significant.”
“I agree with the president’s statement,” said Panetta, whose comment seemed to put him at odds with outgoing US Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s call for a modest draw-down.
Quizzed later on the same issue by Senator John McCain, Panetta declined to state “specific numbers” but said that conditions on the ground would shape that decision.
“We have made progress with regards to security in that country, albeit fragile and reversible,” said Panetta, who was virtually sure to win US Senate confirmation.