Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta responded Sunday to GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's attack on President Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy, arguing that the administration is on track to reach its goal of withdrawing troops from the nation by the end of 2014.
Romney previously called the president "naive" for announcing plans to withdraw troops by the end of 2014.
"Without getting into the campaign rhetoric of what [Romney]'s asserting, I think you’ve got 50 nations in NATO that agree to a plan in Afghanistan," Panetta said on ABC's "This Week." "It’s the Lisbon agreement, an agreement that, you know, others, President Bush, President Obama, everyone has agreed is the direction that we go in Afghanistan."
Romney said earlier this year that the president was "misguided" in laying out plans for Afghanistan, arguing that announcing a firm withdrawal date sent the wrong message to Afghan allies. "You just scratch your head and say, 'How can you be so misguided? And so naive?" Romney said. "His secretary of defense said that on a certain date ... we’re going to pull out our combat troops from Afghanistan. Why in the world do you go to the people that you’re fighting with and tell them the day you’re pulling out your troops?"
Panetta said Sunday that timelines are a necessary piece of the Afghanistan drawdown.
"Frankly, the only way to get this accomplished in terms of the transition that we have to go through is to be able to set the kind of timelines that have been set here in order to ensure that we fulfill the mission of an Afghanistan that governs and secures itself," he said. "That’s what this is about."
Asked if there was a plan in place in the event that parts of Afghanistan fall to the Taliban after the withdrawal, Panetta said the U.S. would continue to have an "enduring presence" in the country.
"The most important point is that we’re not going anyplace," he said. "We’re going to have ... an enduring presence that will be in Afghanistan. We’ll continue to work with them on counterterrorism. We’ll continue to provide training, assistance, guidance. We’ll continue to provide support."
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