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.

soundoff (403 Responses)
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  3. Eroding

    If the countries in question would properly keep things under control maybe the USA and UN wouldn't need to "step in" all the time.

    December 3, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Reply
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    October 8, 2012 at 3:43 am | Reply
  5. Alexandr

    US troops you work for war prrofteeis. Your government and military has been hijacked and you have been betrayed and deceived. You are NOT fighting for the peace and security of America or ANY nation. The real terrorists are your CRIMINAL Government/Military leaders and fully complicit lying corporate media. You invade nation after nation in manufactured wars, slaughtering the innocent, preparing the ground for corporate hyenas to divide up the spoil. Stand down to ALL unlawful orders

    September 10, 2012 at 10:42 am | Reply
  6. susan harmala

    We as AMERICANS NEED TO STOP EVALUATING THE SITUATION IN syria by the propaganda that is presented to us, but by doing our homework before rushing to judgement.

    August 12, 2012 at 10:32 am | Reply
  7. vhjjtreffgh


    August 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Reply
  8. Marco Hsiao

    [ The US kills 100,000 innocent Iraqi Muslims that is a big crime ]

    The US uses lie – weapon of mass destruction – to murder more than 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians and 4500 US soldiers; force Iraq from Iran's enemy to become Iran's ally. Thus the US is dirtiest country on violating human right and violating morality in the 21st century.

    The US also kills lots of innocent Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and Syria. Libya's election has proved more than half of Libyan people support Gaddafi, but the US murders Gaddafi and his grandchildren (age below 12).

    The best strategy for the US long term interest – The US to pays apology and compensation to Iraq (US$ 6 trillion), Afghanistan (3 trillion), Pakistan (1 trillion) Libya (1 trillion) and Syria (1 trillion). Besides, Obama and Clinton should kneel down to the tomb of Gaddafi and his grandchildren to say sorry.

    The US is in the eve of big declining; the US treasury is approaching to peril; but the corrupt US politicians just loyal to military complex for bankrupting the US.

    August 1, 2012 at 8:45 am | Reply
  9. uyrdgbnu


    August 1, 2012 at 6:23 am | Reply
  10. cs

    I think most of those guys in the military are been forced to fight by the top officials. Some definitely wants to abandon the regime, but can not find a mean to do that. Examples are the guys that are using air power to bomb. How will these guys defect? They can not fly a jet bombers to Turkey to defect. Turkey will definitely bring it down. They can not fly to Jordan, because the jordanian military will bring it down. They can't even fly to Iraq to defect. Even if they have decided to defect on the opposition side, they can't because they will be fire upon. It's really complicated for those who wants to abandon the regime. It's easier for those who are outside of the regime to defect than those that are inside. I was watching al Jazeera the other day and they were interviewing a guy who defected, but was fire upon by some of the Syrian military when trying to defect. It's a complicated situation going on over there. My heart and prayer go out to those civilians who are caught in the middle of all this. Everyone loves freedom. I hope at the end of all this the people of Syria will taste the greatness of freedom.

    August 1, 2012 at 5:27 am | Reply
    • 66th Strategic Command & Operations Unit.

      Even if the U.S or U.N get involved people WILL die and there will still be blood shed of innocents friendly and hostile and money will be wasted along with assets. Fact of the matter is the U.S & U.N are damned of they intervene and damned if they don't there is no win to the situation and no ultimate idea of what's to come if Assad leaves. It's either ignore the cries of those who WANT & NEED the help or get involved and potentially end up with either a Iraq scenario or watch a genocide.

      August 1, 2012 at 6:08 am | Reply
  11. Hussein Toronto

    I support evry step taking by U.N. And U.S. to make peace in syria....AL-assads days are numbered

    August 1, 2012 at 4:17 am | Reply
  12. Hussein Toronto

    I support evry steps taking by U.N. And U.S. Together with their allies... Al-assads days are numbered....

    August 1, 2012 at 4:15 am | Reply
  13. loleeta11

    the comments here are hilariously SAD! Seems none of you know whats really going on in Syria. Not one of you ever stepped foot inside this beautiful country or knows a Syrian let alone someone who is actually fighting this war! Newsflash the Massacres are funded by USA, Saudi's,Qatar,Israel,.....Ect,,, the rebels come from outside,the media is painting one big lie and all of you sheep are falling for it hook line and sinker per usual. Instead of getting your damn news from mainstream media propoganda why dont you actually get to know some syrian people and then make a call to judgement,.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:52 am | Reply
  14. midas

    If the U.S. went to war with the Syrian gov we would at least have support inside and out. Everyone deserves to be free if not at least free from fear death and torture.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:56 am | Reply
  15. Everett Wallace

    the question is this panneta your military fought against me, so who is going to keep them in tact, from the air force to the navy. the illuminati told you to do this spiritual warfare with me and you lost, so delta force and special ops come on let me put you to the test in the flesh face to face how ever you want to do it, bring your biggest guns or you can just send the ones you are afraid of, cause I ain't afraid of NOTHING. BONEHEADS.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:31 am | Reply
  16. ragheadthefiendlyterrorist

    The copmments here are hilarious. What a bunch of brain-dead propaganda-swallowing zombies you lot are.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Reply
    • Joe dirt

      What a stupid commie ball licker you are.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Reply
  17. Jaimie

    Get out of Syria Basher al – Assad. Your days are numbered. Get out while you can before your family also gets harmed. Drones are a good thing Assad . Have eyes on top of your head

    July 31, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Reply
  18. Fuzzy maff

    Unfortunately, al-Assad has learned his lessons well. If he stands down then he winds up like Mubarek or Saddam. He can't run like the ex-Tunisian Prez because he has already killed too many people. He can't pull a Jordan because his opponents are no longer interested in compromise. He can't pull a Bahrain because he doesn't have the backing of the American-Israeli-Sunni axis. He doesn't have the money to pull a Saudi Arabia and he can't lose and go down like Gahddafi. All he can do is pull a Sudan, and build his own comfortable prison country. That, or lash out and set the region on fire.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  19. jgdsdghjj


    July 31, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Reply
  20. rodrigo

    The US needs to stop policing the world. Let the arab nation deal with these major violations of human rights. The time has come for us to concentrate on us.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      Well said, rodrigo. I agree!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Reply
    • Cmurph103

      Ya cuz that worked so well in WW1 and WW2. Hey u know we shoulda never even entered those wars. Your isolationist ideals are obvious.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Reply
      • Roman

        USA was paid to go to war, learn some history. Especially WW1.

        August 1, 2012 at 1:53 am |
      • Joe dirt

        Roman is a silly Chinaman. Not allowed to vote, see naked women on his computer, or talk about politics. Stupid slave.

        August 1, 2012 at 4:31 am |
    • Joe dirt

      The US needs to keep the world safe from losers like Russia, China, and the crapistanis.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:31 am | Reply
  21. mousethatroared

    Oh now that Leon Panetta has roared, President Al-Assad will immediately seek exile in Turkmenistan (or some similar country). Boy that was easy. Leon Panetta just wished away a tyrant–wow?

    July 31, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Reply
  22. khtrvbkutf


    July 31, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Reply
  23. SugarKube

    Panetta never really was the sharpest knife in the drawer.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Reply
    • Joe

      Syria will end up just like Iraq - a non function mess.

      The US will be banned from the Mideast.

      July 31, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Reply
      • rrrnnn

        yes please ban the us...so we dont have to pay for their mistakes,and have the lives of us citizens lost....because of their backwards beliefs!!!

        July 31, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  24. AL

    Just send the fat guy and Hillary over there and let them force out the rebels. Do not provide any of our troops even UN troops to that region, they are doing a good job all on their own. And if the media were to stop reporting it then they will just go away. That is NOT our problem let that region, that has lots and lots of money, fix their own back yard.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  25. SAO

    Matthew 25:36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

    July 31, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Reply
  26. ricardo1968

    Iraq was very different than Syria is now. It made sense in Iraq to keep the army because the army was simply defending against a foreign enemy. In Syria the army is taking part in massacres of their own civilians. I don't think it will be acceptable to the Syrian people to keep the army intact.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  27. Tom Clark

    Panetta, mind your own business!

    July 31, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  28. Norman

    I pooped in Leon's front yard.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  29. saeed

    USA and britian are loser countries even Michael Phelps is a loser when you live in a loser countriew and a loser cultures you become a loser.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Reply
    • Vad

      Saeed, you confuse me. Are you mad at the U.S. because we interfere when we shouldn't or because we don't interfere when we should? I would be more than happy to pull all our troops out of combat operations all over the world and see if everyone suddenly stops killing each other. Somehow, I believe the killing would continue just fine without us.

      July 31, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Reply
      • logan

        Vad, don't bother with saeed, he is a syrian troll working for al-Assad. He posts this kind of crap on every article about Syria. His days are numbered.

        July 31, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • logan

      Saeed, your rambling makes no sense. The people of Syria are following in the footsteps of America. They have said they want freedom now they will shed their blood and that of tyrants to get it, they will prevail. They are standing up for and earning what is rightfully theirs. al-Assad's days are numbered. I hope the people pluck him out of a hole like they did with Ghadaffi.

      July 31, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Reply
    • Widow

      What a nut bag... So a Winner is a loser? Funny how you use our civil rights and liberties of freedom of speech yet the countries you support do not.. Pretty sad and just shows how mentally brainwashed you are.. If you said those things about Syria in Syria you and your family would be found tortured and murdered. Who knows maybe assad is paying you to write on CNN and other blogs so that you and your family won't be murdered.. I mean only about 90% if Syria is fighting for civil liberties but they all must have it so good and are being forced to do so by Americans and terrorists.. Wow you are pretty mentally screwed. Maybe you should go do a menial repetetive job like cleaning toilets.. Obviously you don't have the mental capacity to think for yourself only what you have been told or forced to say an or write while your countrymen are being murdered en masse

      July 31, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Reply
      • saeed

        micheal phelps walked with hes head high 4 years ago now he dosent even dare to star at anyone.

        July 31, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Manin Ah A'dah

      Wow Sawed....that's so disconcerting..... Whatever will we do?

      July 31, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  30. khtrvbkutf


    July 31, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Reply
  31. ronjayaz

    It must be frustrating to be the "leader of the free world" and not be able to do anything abt it. Panetta's words ring hollow & so undiplomatic sounding, tsk, tsk.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  32. Name*beast84


    July 31, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  33. WhackyWaco

    Panetta is holding Obama's cajones.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  34. Jason

    Saudi Arabia is the only country in the middle east with no history of election fraud. Also Saudis never kill their own people, they just behead them in public (in a very democratic way of course).

    July 31, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Reply
  35. kmack

    Panetta is spot on about keeping syrian military in place those idiots bremer,wolfowitz, etal,made error 1 in iraq. The plan is in play now or he would not be commenting. Syrian army coup de tat very shortly + combined force turks US special ops to meet syrian army leaders with ultimatum coup or die in place then ultimatum to alleged free syrian opposition army to cease hostilities as soon as coup executed or face same fate. Hezbollah to get ultimatum to leave now or be shot onsite.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Reply
  36. EdC

    i find it difficult to comprehend that we can't target a guided missile into Damascus and take out Assad once and for all! We must know his location so this should be easy.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Reply
  37. Thor

    Lol I've always enjoyed the frank demeanor of Panetta. I look forward to most of his trips nowadays

    July 31, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Reply

      Now THIS MAN is a great American! You SPEAK for me LEON !
      you and our President will bring down ASSad w/o firing a shot
      or having to put a single American in harms way..SOOO SMART!!!

      July 31, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  38. David

    You are all pretty ignorant. Its not the U.S telling Assad to get out, its the U.N. There are international laws and regulations for every country, even ours if we violate them. If America was in the same situation, it would be the same thing. If our goverment decided to take military action against its people, and massacred 16,000, there are international laws. Please brush up on your foreign policies and the structure for each one before you just condemn a country. Theres a reason why Russia and China veto'd at one of the U.N meetings. State facts not ignorance.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Reply
    • Mark

      Oh boy, the UN is really giving it to Assad good. Perhaps they'll compose another tersely worded resolution. That will show em.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  39. P JOSH

    Start spreding every chemical weapons you have dear Assad,and create total chaos.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Reply
  40. hgdcbjmj


    July 31, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  41. josh rogen

    We want JOBS not distractions!

    July 31, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Reply
    • Bob B

      Chemical weapons are bad stuff and I know what Leon is saying, but we need jobs too.

      July 31, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  42. joetoast

    I wonder how many of these armchair generals criticizing Panetta flip burgers for a living.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
    • bb

      Mr toast, how would you like your Barry burger. Hi Im Barry Oblunder and as inept as i am, the lies told in my book are even more inept, Panerio (ithink its him or maybe holder) were suppose to do better ITS NOT MY FAULT, Ive been very busy with Cloooney and oprah i really wanted to work on fixing the American economy but geeez letterman is so much more fun. Please text your donations to INEPT>BORG so ican continue to rip you off and make a joke out of america,,, hows that burger Dude???

      July 31, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Reply
      • Aasad

        Dude, You need to see a mental doctor.

        August 1, 2012 at 1:08 am |
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