Gates says defense secretary role was his life's 'highest calling'
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (right) and his predecessor Robert Gates share a laugh during the unveiling ceremony.
October 29th, 2012
08:30 PM ET

Gates says defense secretary role was his life's 'highest calling'

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.

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Filed under: Gates • Military • Panetta • Panetta • Pentagon • Secretary of Defense
September 11th, 2012
05:19 PM ET

White House: Obama talks with Netanyahu on Iran, no meeting sought

By Barbara Starr

President Barack Obama talked with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a call Tuesday night about the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, according to a White House statement.

Obama placed the call to Netanyahu, a senior administration official told CNN.

The one-paragraph statement from the White House, which referred to the Obama-Netanyahu discussion as "a part of their ongoing consultations," followed reports earlier in the day that the White House had rejected a request by Netanyahu to meet with Obama this month to discuss Iran's nuclear program.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer, citing Israeli sources, reported that the Israelis were told Obama's schedule would not permit a meeting even though Israel offered to have Netanyahu travel to Washington.

Obama and Netanyahu are both due to address the United Nations in New York in late September but not at the same time.


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Filed under: Ahmadinejad • Arms Control • Iran • Israel • Military • Nuclear • Panetta • Pentagon
August 20th, 2012
06:13 AM ET

Another NATO troop killed by Afghan police officer

By the CNN Wire Staff

Another attacker in an Afghan police uniform killed a member of the NATO forces Sunday in Afghanistan, the latest in a slew of so-called "green-on-blue" attacks.

The incident took place in southern Afghanistan, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said.


Filed under: Afghanistan • Karzai • NATO • Panetta
Pentagon: Iran training pro-regime militias in Syria
August 14th, 2012
05:22 PM ET

Pentagon: Iran training pro-regime militias in Syria

By Larry Shaughnessy

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday accused Iran of training pro-Assad militias in Syria in an increased effort to to prop up the embattled Syrian president.

"There's now an indication that they're trying to develop - or trying to train a militia within Syria to be able to fight on behalf of the regime," Panetta said during a news briefing at the Pentagon. "We are seeing a growing presence by Iran and that is of deep concern to us that that's taking place."

U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who briefed the media with Panetta, said this Iranian-trained militia appears to be made up of local civilians, "generally Shia, some Alawite."

Pentagon launches board to examine legal 'flash points' in deployed areas
August 3rd, 2012
02:59 PM ET

Pentagon launches board to examine legal 'flash points' in deployed areas

By Larry Shaughnessy

A group of legal and military experts will examine how major criminal accusations against service members in deployed areas are handled, under a new directive authorized by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and announced Friday.

"We know that over the last 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, bad things have happened involving combat excesses and innocent civilians in deployed area," Panetta wrote in a memo announcing the makeup of the newly formed Defense Legal Policy Board.

"The abuses have been rare among our professional fighting force, but they became huge flash points that threatened to undermine our entire mission."

Jeh Johnson, the Department of Defense's top lawyer, said the action is "part of the secretary's ongoing interest in accountability, particularly in deployed areas."

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Filed under: Military • Panetta • Pentagon • SSGT Robert Bales
July 31st, 2012
02:25 PM ET

Panetta: New Egyptian president “his own man”

By Larry Shaughnessy

The U.S. secretary of defense arrived in Cairo Tuesday for his first meeting with the first democratically elected president in Egypt's history.

Afterward Leon Panetta had positive words for Mohammed Morsy, who represented the Muslim Brotherhood in the election.

"I was convinced that Morsy is his own man, and he is the president of all of the Egyptian people and that he is truly committed to implementing democratic reforms here in Egypt," Panetta said.

The meeting with Morsy was a top priority for this leg of Panetta's week-long trip to North Africa and the Middle East.

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Filed under: Egypt • Mohamed Morsey • Panetta
July 30th, 2012
05:15 PM ET

Panetta says when, not if, al-Assad falls, Syrian military should remain intact

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says that when Bashar al-Assad loses his grip on power, he wants the Syrian military to remain in place.

"I think it's important when Assad leaves - and he will leave - to try to preserve stability in that country. And the best way to preserve that kind of stability is to maintain as much of the military, the police, as you can, along with the security forces, and hope that they will transition to a democratic form of government. That's a key," Panetta told CNN's Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr in an exclusive interview in Tunis, Tunisia, Monday.

He said the United States shouldn't allow a repeat of the Bush administration's moves in Iraq, where it disbanded the Iraqi military.

"It's very important that we don't make the same mistakes we made in Iraq," he said. "And that, particularly, when it comes things like the chemical sites. They (the Syrian military) do a pretty good job of securing those sites. If they suddenly walked away from that, it would be a disaster to have those chemical weapons fall into the wrong hands - hands of Hezbollah or other extremists in that area."

Panetta had some advice for the Syrian dictator whose nation is in the midst of a deadly civil war. "I'm sure that deep down Assad knows he's in trouble and it's just matter of time before he has to go," Panetta said. "I would say if you want to be able to protect yourself and your family, you better get the hell out now."

Panetta is in Tunisia for the start of a week-long trip to the Middle East and North Africa.

Earlier, on the flight to Africa, Panetta told reporters traveling with him that Syria will be on his agenda on every stop.

"The United States and the international community has made very clear that this is intolerable, and have brought their diplomatic and economic pressure on Syria to stop this kind of violence, to have Assad step down and to transition to a democratic form of government," he said. "The key right now is to continue to bring that pressure on Syria, to provide assistance to the opposition, and to provide whatever kind of humanitarian aid we can to assist the refugees."

Watch Barbara Starr and her exclusive interview with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta tonight on CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.

July 29th, 2012
11:00 PM ET

Panetta kicks off sensitive trip to North Africa and Mideast

By Barbara Starr

When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visits the Middle East this week, he will start in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began. But he’ll move quickly into the security hot spots about which everyone is worried.

The sensitive part of the trip begins in Cairo, when Panetta will have his first meeting with newly elected President Mohamed Morsy and Egyptian military leaders, reminding everyone that the United States wants to see a full transition to civilian rule.

Then comes Israel and Jordan, where the dual crises of Syria and Iran have captured everyone’s attention.


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Filed under: Africa • Egypt • Israel • Jordan • Middle East • Panetta • Pentagon • Tunisia
GAO: Military lowering bar to evaluate Afghan troop progress
July 25th, 2012
06:47 PM ET

GAO: Military lowering bar to evaluate Afghan troop progress

By Larry Shaughnessy

America's strategy in Afghanistan has been clear: Have U.S. troops step back from combat to focus on training Afghan National Security Forces so they can take over in 2014.

To hear the administration and military tell it, the plan is working.

"We're building the capacity of Afghans, partnering with communities and police and security forces, which are growing stronger," President Barack Obama said last year.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said just about the same thing last month. "We have built up an Afghan army so that they are increasingly in the lead for their operations. And they are every day improving their capability."

But are the Afghans better soldiers, or is the military lowering the standards by which it measures the Afghan National Security Forces?


U.S. decides to keep beefed-up presence in Middle East waters
USS John C. Stennis will deploy four months early to seas near Iran as tensions continue. (US Navy Photo)
July 16th, 2012
05:20 PM ET

U.S. decides to keep beefed-up presence in Middle East waters

By Barbara Starr
CNN Pentagon Correspondent

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier will head to the Persian Gulf four months earlier than scheduled as part of a Pentagon plan to maintain a beefed-up U.S. military presence in the region, according to Pentagon officials.

The USS John C. Stennis will set sail in September and remain overseas until February 2013. As CNN's Security Clearance first reported last week, the Obama administration and military had been debating whether to keep a second carrier in the region beyond a 2010 mandate that was set to expire in September.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta approved the deployment at the request of Gen. James Mattis, head of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Monday. The Stennis had been scheduled to deploy to the Pacific Command area.

The action essentially keeps two aircraft carriers in the region for the next several months. One option that had been before Panetta would have kept two carriers on station until the end of 2013, but he approved the more limited action with the option of reviewing an extension in the spring.

In addition to the Stennis, the USS Mobile Bay will join it, as well as the destroyer Paul Hamilton which will deploy straight to the Gulf instead of spending time in the Pacific region.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said the deployment was not a direct response to the crisis in Syria or rising tensions with Iran.

"This is about a wide range of security interests," he said.

The military is "mindful of the challenges posed by Iran, but ... this is not a decision based solely on the challenges posed by Iran," Little said.

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