Newly sworn-in Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta commented Monday on the helicopter attack in Afghanistan over the weekend that resulted in the single-day loss of American life since the beginning of the war there. Panetta spoke at a change of command ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. Here are some of his remarks:
Two days ago we lost 22 Navy and three Air Force members of our force who died along with five Navy aviators, seven Afghan soldiers, and one civilian interpreter. And early this morning we lost another Army ranger.
They were far from home, but we know that they were also where they wanted to be, doing what they wanted to do alongside men who were perhaps closer to them than their own brothers. We owe them our deepest gratitude for their willingness to put their lives on the line, for their willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their nation. But we also must pledge to them and to their families that we will never cease fighting for the cause for which they gave their lives, cause of a secure and safer America. We will honor the fallen by showing the world our unyielding determination to press ahead. To move forward with the hard work that must be done to protect our country... As heavy a loss as this was, it would even be more tragic if we allowed it to derail this country from our efforts to defeat al Qaeda and deny them a safe haven in Afghanistan. Instead, we will send a strong message of American resolve from this tragedy, we draw even greater inspiration to carry on the fight. To continue to hunt down those who would do us harm. We will never stop, we will fight on until we have achieved the final goal of victory over terrorism.
This is a reminder, a reminder to the American people, that we remain a nation still at war. One that has seen its share of triumph and tragedy. Special Operators have been at the heart of many of those triumphs. The entire world saw the precision and skill of our military in the operation that brought down Bin Laden, but we know that these successes are driven by the willingness of these brave warriors to shoulder heavy burdens, to take on great risk, and as we all know, that comes often times at a very high cost.
On behalf of a respectful Special Operations Community, I extend our deepest condolences to the families, teammates and friends of our fallen warriors. We will mourn their loss, honor their sacrifice and press on as we have done so many times before. It's what they would want and what we must do.