By CNN's Kevin Liptak
The number of innocent victims of drone strikes remains "extremely small" and doesn't outweigh the benefits of using drones to take out al Qaeda operatives, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates argued Sunday.
But the former Pentagon chief said a better system of checks and balances could be constructive when the unmanned aerial devices are used to target Americans, aligning himself with lawmakers concerned about unfettered power in the hands of the president.
Gates served under George W. Bush during the beginnings of the drone program and later under President Barack Obama as the use of drones spiked. Recently lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have forcefully questioned the use and oversight of the lethal devices.
By Jennifer Rizzo
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates evoked laughter during the unveiling of his official portrait Monday, but said his time heading up the military was the most important job in a long career in Washington.
“As America's Secretary of Defense during two wars was the singular honor and highest calling of my professional life,” Gates said at the Pentagon
Sending troops to war weighed on him every day, he said, so much so that he worried his devotion to protect them was clouding his judgment.
“Towards the end of my time in office, I could barely speak to the troops or about them without becoming over, without being overcome with emotion,” Gates said.
These feelings he says played a role in his decision to retire.
Gates began his role as Defense Secretary in 2006 under President George W. Bush. When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 Gates stayed on in his role, despite plans of retiring—something he jokingly said he had current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to thank for.
By Adam Levine, CNN
The mission to get Osama bin Laden seems to be the raid that keeps on giving for the Obama White House. Whether it is a mention at the top and bottom of the State of the Union address or a highlight in a campaign speech, the president frequently refers to the mission as evidence of his leadership and foreign policy strength.
Vice President Joe Biden jumped on the Obama leadership bandwagon Friday when he revealed that he cautioned the president against signing off on the raid on bin Laden's hideaway. Despite his reservations, Biden said the president made the decision all alone.
Speaking to a meeting of congressional Democrats in Maryland, Biden shared a few new details about the tense decision-making process preceding the president's approval for the daring Pakistan raid by special operations forces.
Biden said that for a four-to-six week period in early 2011 only six people knew that bin Laden might be hiding in the military town of Abbottabad, Pakistan. When enough information finally surfaced, the president convened his national security staff on April 28. FULL POST
By CNN Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy
GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman offered differing views Tuesday nighton how a president should reach decisions about matters such as U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Romney made it clear he believes a president should listen to his commanders on the ground when making such a decision. "The commander-in-chief makes that decision based upon the input of people closest to the ground," Romney said during Tuesday night's CNN Republican presidential debate.
Huntsman said just listening to the commanders on the ground would be a mistake for a president.
"I also remember when people listened to the generals in 1967 and we heard a certain course of action in South Asia that didn't serve our interests very well. The president is the commander-in-chief and ought to be informed by a lot of different voices, including of those of his generals on the ground."
While they differed on how much influence the generals on the ground should have, they both implied that the president's military advisers speak with one voice on these matters. That's not always the case.
In December of 2009, President Barack Obama was mulling over how many "surge" troops to send to Afghanistan. Shortly before he made his decision, CNN sources said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was recommending 40,000 more troops. Obama decided to send 30,000.
Last summer when Obama was trying to decide how many U.S. troops to pull out of Afghanistan, then-Gen. David Patraeus, McChrystal's replacement in Afghanistan, was recommending, according to sources, pulling out 5,000 troops. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates was looking at a 10,000-troop pullout. Obama decided to pullout 33,000 by the end of next summer.
After the president's announcement, Petraeus admitted the number was higher than he thought should be removed. "The ultimate decision was a more aggressive formulation, if you will, in terms of the timeline than what we had recommended," Petraeus said last June.
Even Adm. Michael Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thought the president's withdrawal plans were more bold than he wanted to see. "What I can tell you is, the president's decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept," Mullen said.
Had President Obama listened to just his commanders in Afghanistan, as Romney seemed to indicate, the nature of the war in Afghanistan could have looked very different over then next year.
By Nick Paton Walsh reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan
More than a year after remarks he made in a controversial Rolling Stone article cost him his job, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal is heading back to Afghanistan - at the invitation of the country's presidential palace.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Thursday that McChrystal, the former commander of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, would soon visit Kabul.
"Ambassador (Ryan) Crocker was consulted about Gen. McChrystal's visit and he had no problem with it. (McChrystal and his wife) are traveling as private citizens and they are not carrying any particular message," embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall said.
McChrystal was removed from his post in June 2010 after the general and top aides were quoted in the Rolling Stone article disparaging top administration officials.
At the time, U.S. President Barack Obama praised McChrystal's service record but said the general exhibited poor judgment.
Afghanistan's presidential palace has not released additional information about the visit.
By Larry Shaughnessy
CNN Pentagon Producer
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Army announced Friday that it will reduce the typical soldier’s deployment time in Afghanistan from one year to nine months. It’s a move that could help soldiers better deal with stress and help reduce family problems at home.
“The reduced deployment length will improve soldier and family quality of life while continuing to meet operational requirements and is an important step in sustaining the all-volunteer-force,” Army Secretary John McHugh said in a statement released Friday afternoon.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Vowing that he "came into this job to fight," Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said he intends to make sure "some common sense prevails" as Congress works to find more ways to reduce the national debt.
Panetta, just a little over one month on the job since replacing Robert Gates, held his first Pentagon news conference Thursday.
Most of the briefing centered on questions about the debt deal hammered out last weekend and signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The US Army, already looking to shrink its force by 27,000 soldiers, is now also trying to cut more than 8,000 civilian jobs.
The plans call for the civilian jobs to be eliminated between now and October 2012, according to an Army official and a memo obtained by CNN.
The memo from Army Secretary John McHugh reads in part, "It is imperative that these reductions be accomplished as rapidly as possible, but no later than the end of FY 2012."
The cuts are part of the Army's plan to comply with the Secretary of Defense's instructions to return to Fiscal Year 2010 budget levels and keeping in line with the larger national federal budget reduction efforts that have been underway since before the most recent national debt battle.
The Army, according to its website, has approximately 350,000 civilian employees.
The cuts would come through voluntary early separation or early retirement, attrition and if necessary, layoffs.
Then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in January that the Army would cut its active duty force by 27,000 soldiers as part of what Gates called "efficiency savings".
That reduction will take place beginning in 2015.
The Army's civilian job cuts may just be the beginning for the Pentagon. A senior defense official said Wednesday that in the wake of the cuts spelled out in the debt reduction bill signed this week by President Obama, thousands of civilians throughout the defense department may lose their jobs.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Friday's government report showing a rise in unemployment shines a light on a new hurdle facing young people in need of work: the military isn't the reliable source of employment that it used to be. The Army and Marine Corps are getting smaller, and now there's a nearly year-long wait list just to get into boot camp, no matter which branch you want to join.
The shrinking Army and Marine Corps are part of a long-planned reduction in the size of our Armed Forces.
But the backlog for enlistees is a new issue. Incoming recruits will spend quite a bit of time before they see a Pentagon paycheck. "Some may take a year or slightly longer, the typical new enlistee would probably be somewhere between 9 and 11 months," Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said in an email response to CNN's questions about recruiting.
CNN's Chris Lawrence explores U.S. casualties in Iraq that some American leaders believe are caused by Iranian weapons.