Reacting to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s announcement yesterday that U.S.-led international forces would shift from their lead role in combat operations to a primary role of training Afghan forces, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney resorted to distorting the announcement before a Las Vegas crowd. Calling President Obama “misguided and so naive,” Romney said:
Today, his secretary of defense unleashed such a policy. His secretary of defense said that on a day certain, in the middle of 2013, we’re going to pull out our combat troops from Afghanistan… So the Taliban hears it, the Pakistanis hear it, the Afghan leaders hear it. Why in the world do you go to the people that you’re fighting with and tell them the date you’re pulling out your troops?
But Panetta did not announce any troop withdrawals. He said that in in mid-2013 the U.S. and its allies will shift in roles from one of primarily combat to one of primarily training and advising local allies — a move many experts have said is a necessary step toward ending the war. And this plan isn’t necessarily all that new. U.S. commander of international forces in Afghanistan Gen. John Allen laid it out last month. In fact, Panetta even added, amid the same announcement that Romney misstated, that U.S. troops would remain at the ready to fight if needed. “It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be combat-ready; we will be, because we always have to be in order to defend ourselves,” Panetta said.