Leon Panetta’s 5 challenges
Leon Panetta, President Barack Obama’s choice toreplace Robert Gates as defense secretary, faces agrilling Thursday from the Senate Armed ServicesCommittee, and senators will have plenty to ask himabout.Panetta, currently serving as CIA director, is expectedto win easy confirmation to take over when Gatesretires June 30. He will face lots of unfinished business Gates is leaving behind,including the Afghanistan troop withdrawals and the need to make deep cuts inPentagon spending.“The stakes are potentially quite high,” said Andrew Krepinevich, president of theCenter for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense-oriented think tank.Here are the five issues at the top of Panetta’s list.
Once confirmed, Panetta, a former White House chief of staff, will most likely need tohelp mediate a dispute among administration officials over how many of the nearly100,000 troops to begin pulling out of Afghanistan next month.Some officials, backed by Vice President Joe Biden, are reportedly considering a largewithdrawal, perhaps as much as the entire force of 30,000 troops that were “surged”into Afghanistan over the past 18 months. They have a lot of cover from members of Congress concerned about the increasing cost and wary of public fatigue over a warnow in its 10th year: A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday showed 73percent of Americans want a substantial withdrawal this summer.But military leaders worry that taking too many troops out of the fight too fast willthreaten gains made over the past year, and Gates is backing them up on his way outthe door. “We have the momentum. We have succeeded in stopping the Taliban’smomentum. … But we’ve just kind of turned that corner, and I think we need to keepthe pressure on,” he told Marines during a visit Monday to Kandahar province, alongtime Taliban stronghold that has become more peaceful over the past year.