Panetta in Afghanistan, Calls 2011 a ‘Turning Point’ in US-Led War

Posted December 13th, 2011 at 4:55 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is in Afghanistan to check on the progress of U.S.-led counterinsurgency efforts, which he says reached a “turning point” this year after a decade of fighting the Taliban.

Panetta arrived in Kabul Tuesday for meetings with U.S. military commanders and Afghan officials. On the flight to the Afghan capital, he told reporters the Afghan military and police are better prepared to take responsibility for securing the country, as U.S.-led NATO troops gradually withdraw.

U.S. President Barack Obama issued an order earlier this year for the withdrawal of 10,000 American troops by the end of 2011, and the pullout of another 23,000 by next October. NATO plans to continue transferring security control of Afghan provinces to Afghan forces during that period.

The transition process has been complicated by worsening U.S. relations with Pakistan, after a NATO air strike last month killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the country's long border with Afghanistan.

But the top allied commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, said he has achieved progress in talks with Kabul toward rebuilding cross-border security cooperation after the incident. Allen said he spoke on the phone Monday with Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.

Panetta said the United States believes that U.S.-Pakistan relations are vital for combating terrorism.

Pakistan has taken other punitive measures in response to the November 26 incident, including ordering the U.S. military to vacate a Pakistani air base that serviced U.S. drones involved in attacks on militants in the border region.

NATO says its aircraft were trying to attack militants who live in the border areas, and denies Pakistani accusations that it deliberately targeted the Pakistani troops.