05/27/2012 09:35 am ET Updated May 27, 2012

Panetta: Bin Laden Doctor's Sentence 'Disturbing'

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is defending the Obama administration's plans to wind down the more than decade-long war in Afghanistan.

Speaking Sunday on ABC's "This Week," the Pentagon chief said the U.S. still has a fight on its hands, but is on the right track.

Panetta says he supports the decision to set a firm timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops, a position criticized by Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama's probable Republican opponent in this fall's election.

Panetta also repeated his criticism of the conviction and lengthy prison term given to a Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find and kill Osama bin Laden.

Panetta says the doctor was not working against Pakistan and helped the U.S. locate one of the world's most notorious terrorists.

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“It is so difficult to understand and it’s so disturbing that they would sentence this doctor to 33 years for helping in the search for the most notorious terrorist in our times,” Panetta said. “This doctor was not working against Pakistan, he was working against al Qaeda. And I hope that ultimately Pakistan understands that, because what they have done here … does not help in the effort to try to reestablish a relationship between the United States and Pakistan.”

Panetta also called Pakistan "one of the most complicated relationships that we’ve had" but stressed that the importance of continuing to improve it.

"It’s an up-and-down relationship," he said. "There have been periods where we’ve had good cooperation and they have worked with us and there have been periods where we’ve had conflict. But they’re dealing with the terrorist threat just like we are."