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Statement by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta State of The Union Announcement on Afghanistan

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I welcome President Obama's announcement tonight that 34,000 American troops will be home from Afghanistan by this time next year. This plan to continue drawing down our forces in a phased approach over the coming year was recommended by Gen. John Allen based on a thorough assessment of the ISAF campaign plan moving forward.

In consultations with the president and his national security team, I strongly supported Gen. Allen's recommendation and I believe the president's decision puts us on the right path to succeed in Afghanistan.

Going forward, I am confident that Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. will have the combat power he needs to protect our forces, to continue building up the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces, and to achieve the goal of this campaign -- to deny al Qaeda a safe haven to attack our homeland.

The United States, NATO and the Afghan government agreed in Lisbon in 2010, and affirmed in Chicago last year, that Afghanistan will assume full responsibility for its security by the end of 2014. We are on track for that goal, and we will maintain a long-term commitment to Afghanistan -- including through the continued training and equipping of Afghan forces and counter-terrorism operations against al Qaeda and their affiliates.

The American people should never forget the reason that our men and women are fighting in Afghanistan: because we were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. After more than a decade of great sacrifice and hard-fought progress, we are now on a path to an Afghanistan that cannot be used as a launching pad for attacks against our nation. Our troops on the ground will continue to be in a tough fight, and they will continue to face real challenges, but our fundamental goal is now within sight. Thanks to their continued dedication and sacrifice, I believe we will prevail.


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