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(Editor’s note: SDGLN is publishing a transcript of the historical Department of Defense news briefing at the Pentagon with Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the occasion of the repeal of the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prevented open service for gay and lesbian troops.)
SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Good afternoon. It's good to see everyone again.
First of all, let me acknowledge that this is an historic day for the Pentagon and for the nation. As of 12:01 a.m. this morning, we have the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," pursuant to the law that was passed by the Congress last December. Thanks to this change, I believe we move closer to achieving the goal at the foundation of the values that America's all about -- equality, equal opportunity and dignity for all Americans.
As Secretary of Defense, I am committed to removing all of the barriers that would prevent Americans from serving their country and from rising to the highest level of responsibility that their talents and capabilities warrant. These are men and women who put their lives on the line in the defense of this country, and that's what should matter the most.
I want to thank the repeal implementation team and the service secretaries along with the service chiefs for all of their efforts to ensure that DOD is ready to make this change, consistent with standards of military readiness, with military effectiveness, with unit cohesion and with the recruiting and retention of the armed forces.
All of the service chiefs have stated very clearly that all of these elements have been met in the review that they conducted. Over 97 percent of our 2.3 million men and women in uniform have now received education and training on repeal as as result of these efforts.
I also want to thank the Comprehensive Review Working Group for the work they did on the report that laid the groundwork for the change in this policy, and above all, I'd like to single out the person who's next to me at this table, Admiral Mike Mullen.
His courageous testimony and leadership on this issue, I think, were major factors in bringing us to this day. And he deserves a great deal of credit for what has occurred.
Let me also, if I can, give you a quick update on the defense budget and where that stands at this point. As you know, the department has been undergoing a strategy-driven process to prepare to implement the more than 450 billion (dollars) in savings that it will be required to do over the next 10 years as a result of the debt limit agreement.
This review is still ongoing. No decisions have been made. But, I am committed to making these decisions based on the best advice that I receive from the service secretaries and from the service chiefs as well as the combatant commanders.
And I've made clear that I will be guided by the following principles: number one, that we must maintain the very best military in the world, a force capable of deterring conflict, projecting power and winning wars. We have been through a decade of war. And the result of that has been almost a doubling of the defense budget during that period.
Now I have to take on the responsibility of exercising fiscal responsibility based on doing our part to confront the deficit.
And I think this can be done by shaping -- using this as an opportunity to shape the very best defense we can for this country as we approach the next 10 years so that it -- we can effectively take on the challenges and threats in the world that we face.
Secondly, we must avoid a hollow force, and maintain a military that will always be ready, agile, deployable and capable.
Thirdly, we must take a balanced approach, and look at all areas of the budget for potential savings -- efficiencies that trim duplication and bureaucratic overhead, to improving competition, contracting procedures, management and the operations in investment programs, to tightening and reforming personnel costs and areas, to developing what will be a smaller, more agile and more flexible force for the future.
Finally, we cannot break faith with our men and women in uniform. A volunteer force is central to a strong military and is central to our future.
Achieving these savings will be very hard. This is not going to be an easy process. These involve tough decisions and tough trade- offs. While we will continue to focus on reducing overhead and duplication, make no mistake: These reductions will force us to take on greater risk in our mission to protect the country in time of war and in the face of growing security challenges.
My goal is to try to make sure that these risks are acceptable by making sure that we maintain a strong defense and preserve our ability to protect our core national security interests
Even as we take on our share of the country's efforts to achieve fiscal discipline, we still face the potentially devastating mechanism known as sequester. So I've tried to make clear over the past month the roughly $1 trillion in cuts that would be forced by sequester would seriously weaken our military, and it would really make us unable to protect this nation from a range of security threats that we face. Since the cuts would have to be applied in equal percentages to every project area, we just simply could not avoid hollowing out the force. That will be the ultimate result if sequester goes into effect.
And the sequester will not only impact our military strength, I think it will impact our economic strength as well. Cancellation of weapon systems, construction projects, research activity would seriously cripple our industrial base, which would be unacceptable not only to me as Secretary of Defense but to our ability to be able to maintain the best defense system for the world.
While this budget environment presents some difficult choices for our armed forces, I believe that if we can avoid further cuts, we have a real opportunity here to set some priorities and make some hard choices needed to build a stronger force for the future and to keep faith with our men and women in uniform.
And finally, let me say a word about Mike Mullen, since this would be his last conference, at least alongside the Secretary of Defense.
ADM. MULLEN: We hope. (Laughter.)
Don't take that personally.
SEC. PANETTA: I've heard that before. (Laughter.)
This has been -- it's been a real honor for me to be able to serve with Admiral Mullen. He's provided very strong leadership in shaping the defense of this country and our military's future, and I think as a result of that, we're a stronger and more secure nation because of his leadership. I've worked with him in this job, and I worked with him in the past as director of the CIA. And in particular, I appreciate the support he gave us when we conducted the Osama bin Laden mission. It was -- it could not have been done without his support and without his cooperation.
He's been steadfast. He's been a passionate voice for the support of our service members, both he and his wife. And our strategy that is now bearing fruit, I think, in Iraq and Afghanistan owes a great deal of his -- of its success to his vision, his determination and his dedication.
He has really, in my book, set a standard for the responsibilities and performance of a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and that will be forever his legacy. So I want to thank him for his years of dedicated service, his tireless efforts on behalf of our country, for his friendship, but in particular I want to thank him on behalf of the men and women in uniform who I think more than anyone else appreciate his leadership.
ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and thank you very much for both your leadership and those kind words. I too am very proud of the relationship that we've enjoyed over the last couple of years, and I'm grateful for your willingness to continue serving our nation.
It's been a pleasure to be a part of your team as you navigate new waters here in the Pentagon.
And I'll say this: You're a pretty quick study. This can be a very difficult culture to master, but it didn't take you very long to figure out that BOG can actually be a good thing, that MiTTs aren't something we use to take brownies out of the oven, and that MANPADS aren't hideouts we find to eat snacks and watch football. (Laughter.) Then again, I don't think we ever really held out any hope of fooling the former director of the CIA.
SEC. PANETTA: (Laughs.)
ADM. MULLEN: Through this, sir, you've already made an enormous difference. And our troops know that you care about them and their families, and they know that throughout these lean budget times, you will have their back.
I couldn't agree more with you on the need to think and act smartly as we make very difficult, very necessary fiscal decisions about force structure, personnel and operations. As you have said yourself, these must be strategy-driven decisions. We must begin with a clear-eyed assessment of those things the joint force must continue to do for our fellow citizens, the options we must continue to be able to provide our president, and be willing to curtail or even end those missions and capabilities which do not comport with that strategy. We must consider the world as it is, the threats as we see them, not wishing away the danger nor blowing it out of proportion.
It is because I believe that our national debt is our greatest national security threat that I also believe we must do our part to reduce it, to limit its harm. Programs that are behind schedule or woefully over budget should be considered for elimination.
And I think history is important here, as well. I can remember in the early '90s when two of our major programs, the C-17 in the Air Force and the DDG-51 in the Navy, were in lots of trouble.
These two programs now are certainly stalwarts in our defense and critical to our success. So there are programs that should be eliminated; I think we just need to do the due diligence to make sure we get the right ones.
The personnel accounts which make up the vast majority of our allocation should be scrubbed for inefficiencies and overhead. And those exercises and operations that do not, in the end, directly contribute to the security commitments we see as essential must be recalibrated. I believe we are what we buy, that the American people will get the military we purchase for them. We ought to make sure that military is the right one for the future, flexible and adaptable enough to fight wars both big and small, near and far, a force that can secure our national interests and not, by its size and shape, define those interests.
I remain convinced that our effort to find more than $450 billion in cuts the president has ordered over the next 10 years is achievable. And like you, Mr. Secretary, I am committed to the process we have put in place to do that. It's the responsible thing to do. But I also share your deep trepidation over sequestration and the potential for cuts so devastating and so dramatic that we place at risk the very security we're charged to provide, that we negate the very reason we exist. I hope the super committee and the Congress will recognize the work we are doing to shoulder our part of the load and look elsewhere for further reductions.
I also hope they will not drive us to make decisions that violate the covenant we've made with our troops and with their families. Ten years of war have not broken the all-volunteer force, but drastic budget measures that adversely affect the lives and livelihoods of our people very well might.
We can afford to lose some things, but we cannot afford to lose them.
A word or two on today's implementation of the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." As you all know, I testified in early 2010 that it was time to end this law and this policy. I believed then, and I still believe, that it was first and foremost a matter of integrity; that it was fundamentally against everything we stand for as an institution to force people to lie about who they are just to wear a uniform. We are better than that. We should be better than that. And today, with implementation of the new law fully in place, we are a stronger joint force, a more tolerant joint force, a force of more character and more honor, more in keeping with our own values.
I am convinced we did the work necessary to prepare for this change, that we adequately trained and educated our people, and that we took into proper consideration all the regulatory and policy modifications that needed to be made.
I appreciate the secretary's confidence in me and his kind praise, but today is really about every man and woman who serves this country, and every man and woman in uniform, regardless of how they define themselves. And tomorrow, they'll all get up, they'll all go to work, and they will all be able to do that work honestly, and their fellow citizens will be safe from harm. And that's all that really matters.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Admiral Mullen mentioned that men and women in uniform are more tolerant today than when the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was done 18 years ago. I'm wondering how do you guard against the possibility that some will try to undermine it or even reverse it by committing acts of harassment or violence against gays.
And also in your opening remarks you mentioned that you're committed to removing all barriers to equal opportunity and service in the military. Does that include allowing women to serve in any position in the military, combat?
If I may ask a quick question to the admiral, a follow-up, if you don't --
ADM./SEC.: A third one? (Laughter.)
Q: Could you -- would you comment on also -- could you also elaborate on the remarks you made this morning about the timetable for the withdrawal in Iraq, which you've said, I believe, that the U.S. would be down to 30,000 troops by the end of this month. I'm wondering, is that an acceleration of what the plan was recently? Because it's quite a large drop. And also, does this compress the time frame in which the Iraqis have to make a decision?
ADM. MULLEN: I'll just take the last one.
SEC. PANETTA: I'm going to let him go first. (Laughs.)
ADM. MULLEN: No, this is -- this is the time -- this is the draw-down plan that General Austin has had in place, specifically. And it's really a plan that gets us to -- under the current agreement to all the troops out by the end of December, so there's no change.
SEC. PANETTA: With regards to, you know, the possibility of harassment, look, we have a zero tolerance with regards to harassment. And my hope is that the command structure operating with the -- you know, the standard disciplines that are in place will implement those disciplines and will ensure that harassment doesn't take place and that all behavior is consistent with the discipline and the best interests of our military.
With regards to other areas and other barriers, I mean, I think -- I think that we always have to continue to look at those issues and not just simply, you know, shove -- put them off the table.
I think -- I think as we progress, particularly having taken this step, I think the opportunity to look at those other opportunities is something we ought to continue to pay attention to.
Q: Is it a high priority for you?
SEC. PANETTA: Right now I've got the budget, which is my highest priority.
Q: Mr. Chairman, you mentioned that you really did come out early and publicly in calling "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" an unfair law. As you prepare now to leave office and you look back on your career, where does that stand -- taking that stand rank in your career. and are you comfortable leaving a military in which the partners of lot -- of a lot of these gay and lesbian service members still won't have access to health care, to pensions, even spousal support networks, when the service members deploy?
ADM. MULLEN: I mean, one of the reasons that I've been in the military for over four decades is because I care immensely about the people and their families and that they are -- they have been extraordinary to work with and depend on my whole career. From the point of view of this particular law, I mean, some of it was just actually timing. I -- you know, I happened to be the chairman when this thing came into, obviously, very intense focus. I expressed very specifically my personal views at a time when I knew that that was going to be asked of me. And then obviously the process for change has evolved from there.
I'm not one that -- I don't think about, you know, top 10, top 5, whatever. Obviously this is a -- this is a huge change. It hits at -- the heart of the issue for me is the integrity of the institution. It is a value for us. It serves us well.
And in that regard, seeing this change is a huge step in the right direction, to be consistent with those people that I -- with all our people that I care so much about and to be consistent with that value. So, I mean, that's how I would describe it as I would look back on it.
And I think I said then, said today, it's the right thing to do. It's done. We need to move on.
Q: And to the second part as well, about leaving a military in which a lot of the partners still won't have equal treatment as some of their -- some of the other service members?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, as you know, and we've talked about this, I mean, we follow the law here. And, you know, DOMA, that law restricts some of the issues that you talk about. And we're going to follow that law as long as it exists. Certainly we're aware there are -- there are benefits which do accrue to this change very specifically and directly that are -- that went into effect last night at midnight, and there are others, some of the ones that you talk about, which will -- certainly in compliance with the law, there will not be any change.
Q: I wanted to ask both of you about the assassination of Dr. Rabbani today -- in Afghanistan. Mr. Chairman earlier today you talked about the violence. You said we have to adjust to that and protect the leaders. So my first question is, what are you talking about, what kind of protection for Afghan leadership?
What about the Haqqani Network and their being behind some of these? And after four high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent weeks, is it time to finally say this is more than just them -- the Taliban -- seeking headlines and seeking propaganda? Is it time to take this more seriously?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think we do take it very seriously, first of all. Secondly, I don't have the details of this, other than what's been -- what's been reported, so I couldn't tell you who's behind it.
I think there are -- you -- there are those that would immediately finger Haqqani specifically. I just don't -- I can't validate that one way or another.
For weeks now, since President Karzai's brother was killed, and there were assassinations or there were killings back then as well, one of the things that General Allen has done is looked with the Afghan security forces at ways to shore up their security and to -- and the personal security. And so we continue to do that -- to look at their practices, to look at their qualifications, those kinds of things. And that will continue.
But this also, from my perspective, reflects the shift in -- with respect to the Taliban's overall strategy because they've not succeeded on the ground this year. Their campaign has failed in that regard. They've shifted to these high-profile attacks. Strategically they're significant.
General Allen as recently as today described the attack on the embassy as an operational failure. That said, it certainly has had strategic impact. So we take it very seriously as a part of the campaign. We know that this is what the Taliban are doing, and we've got to adjust, and we're doing it.
And I'm -- and I'm -- you know, we're aware that this is -- this will continue. But I don't think -- I mean, that they seek to continue this -- but I don't think today's the time or this is the moment to make any significant change. We do take it very seriously.
Q: Mr. Secretary, what changes are you looking at in Afghanistan in terms of trying to deal with this evolving threat Admiral Mullen described-
SEC. PANETTA: Well, as the Admiral said, we are extremely concerned about, obviously, these kinds of attacks.
We're concerned about all of the attacks that take place because of the lives that are lost and because of the -- you know, the effort to disrupt the progress that has been made in Afghanistan.
But it's not unexpected. I had a discussion with General Allen this morning basically asking him for -- you know, give me your assessment as to what's happening with the Taliban and obviously having gone through the attacks in Kabul and the car bombing that took place before that -- give me your assessment. And his assessment was that, you know, we have made progress against the Taliban, that we had anticipated early on that there would be broader attacks that would be made by the Taliban during this period, this fighting period, and those have not occurred.
We have made progress in weakening them. We have made progress in going after their leadership. But having said that, they now are resorting to these kinds of attacks, to these kinds of high-level assassinations, which, you know, as I said, are of concern. And we've got to take steps to try to make sure that we protect against that.
And we're in the process of doing that. We're working with the Afghans to try to discuss with them steps on how we can take -- provide better protection so that this does not occur. But the bottom line still remains that we are moving in the right direction. We have made progress against the Taliban. And we can't let some of these sporadic events deter us from the progress that we've made.
Q: How big a loss is Rabbani to the peace and reconciliation process?
SEC. PANETTA: I regret his loss. I think he was playing an important role with regards to efforts at reconciliation, reintegration. And I'm hopeful that we'll be able to work with others to try to continue the efforts that he was engaged in.
Q: After the series of attacks in Kabul, is there any greater U.S. willingness to take unilateral action against the Haqqanis across the border in Pakistan? And if not, what can you do about it?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, I made the point, and I think Mike Mullen has made the same point, that, look, we are going to take whatever steps are necessary to protect our forces. With -- and I'm not going to talk about, you know, particular strategies to, in fact, implement that commitment.
But our biggest concern right now is to put as much pressure as possible on the Pakistanis to exercise control from their side of the border. We've continued to state that this cannot happen. We cannot have the Haqqanis coming across the border, attacking our forces, attacking Afghanistan -- Afghanistanis and then disappearing back into a safe haven. That is not tolerable.
And we have urged them to take steps. Mike Mullen met with General Kayani recently to urge that same point. And we'll continue to do that. I think they're -- I think they've heard the message, but we'll see.
Q: Admiral Mullen?
ADM. MULLEN: Yes, sir?
Q: General James Amos made a recommendation against repealing "don't ask, don't tell" while testifying before Congress in early December. He said he couldn't turn his back on the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" survey, showing that the majority of his combat units were concerned that repealing the ban would have a negative effect on the mission in Afghanistan. Was the general wrong in opposing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" based on concerns among his combat troops, and what is the Pentagon doing to mitigate those concerns?
ADM. MULLEN: I'm -- General Amos made his position very clear back then. The second part of his sentence was: If the law changes, the Marines will be the first ones to do the training and to comply with the law. And that's happened.
So the secretary spoke to the -- both of us spoke to the training and quite frankly over the last several months, as we've conducted the training, we have in -- not found, you know, any significant issues either -- obviously the training was not to change one's view; it was to make sure everybody understood what the rules were. And the Marines do that better than anybody else. So I have great confidence, you know, the Marine Corps is going to march off and do this, as General Amos said they would and actually tells us they are.
SEC. PANETTA: I talked to -- I talked to General Amos directly about that, and he said that, you know, after doing the review and finding that there was no impact in terms of recruitment or morale or unit cohesion, that he was committed to putting this in place and that it was now important to move on.
Q: To go back to -- on the Haqqani, you know, Mr. Secretary, you said that think that the Pakistanis have heard your pleas about what needs to be done inside their borders, and that, Mr. Chairman, you met with Kayani. We've heard that for several years now, that we think they've heard us, but we want them to do more, and you've kept meeting with the general over and over again. Have you been wrong in this strategy of not having a harder fist with them, taking a tougher stand? Is there something else that could have been done that would have made -- have changed this narrative, after all this time?
ADM. MULLEN: I think the substance of the meeting just the other day, as well as the vast majority of meetings that I've had with General Kayani, have been to work towards a way that we can sustain the relationship. It's going to go up and down. We've had a very tough patch here over the last several months.
I just -- I would want to reassure you that I addressed this issue very strongly with General Kayani the other night, last Friday night, when I met with him. It was the heart of the discussion, that the Haqqani -- the proxy connection to the ISI, the Haqqanis working across border, killing our people, killing Afghans, has to stop.
That's not a new message, but it's one that he clearly understands, and I think it's one we have to keep reiterating.
All of that said, I think the strength of having met with him so many times is that we have sustained a relationship, you know, when things are going better as well as when things are not going well. And recently they haven't gone well, but we've been able to sustain that and start to move it again in a more positive direction. But the clarity with which I addressed this issue, there just -- there can be no question and no doubt.
SEC. PANETTA: The approach has to be for Pakistan to continue to put pressure on them -- continue to put pressure on them. That's what we've been doing over the last few years. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't work. But the fact is that the most important thing we can do is keep the pressure on. Obviously, they cooperate with us in some areas. There are other areas where we have disagreements.
Very frankly, terrorism is as much a threat for them as it is for us. And we keep telling them, you can't choose among terrorists. If you're -- if you're against terrorism, you have to be against all forms of terrorism. And that's something we just have to continue to stress.
Q: Thank you. I was just going to ask about Libya. As fighting continues in a -- in a few places, how much longer will the U.S. continue to participate in the NATO operation? And do you see this as a template for future international missions?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, I think I -- generally, our view is that this mission went well, that the role that NATO performed there was the right one.
And obviously, NATO will continue to provide whatever assistance it can, as it winds up. I mean, I think this is -- you know, clearly, the opposition has made significant progress there. There are still some elements of the regime that are out there that they're continuing to work on.
And as to what future role is involved with NATO, that's something that we're going to be discussing with NATO as we see events unfold in Libya. And -- matter of fact, I've already begun some of those discussions with my NATO partners, trying to decide, you know, what should be the next steps.
ADM. MULLEN: If I could just add one quick comment on that, I met with all the NATO CHODs (Chiefs of Defense) over the -- this weekend, and consistent with what the secretary said and sort of where the mission is. But also, a number of them went out of their way to thank the United States for the support to enable them to be able to succeed to this point, extensively. I mean, we led it early. The decision was made obviously to put us in a support role that was clearly critical. And, you know, we're a part of NATO. It's a -- it's a critical alliance, has been, is and will be for the future.
Q: Thank you. There are reports that the State Department is planning to hire 8,000 security contractors in Iraq if the Pentagon pulls out all its forces by the end of the year or leaves behind a small training mission. Admiral Mullen, are you concerned about the size of the force that there are discussions of being left behind in Iraq? Will it be too small?
And Secretary Panetta, is it wise at this time to pull so many troops out of Iraq and then have to rely on expensive contractors?
SEC. PANETTA: Well -- and you know, let me just preface this, and then I'll yield to Mike. It's important to understand that we are now in negotiations with the Iraqis as to what they need. General Austin, Ambassador Jeffrey -- both of them are very serious negotiations with them. We're listening to their needs. We're listening to their concerns. We're listening to what they think they have to have in order to provide security in that country. And so those are ongoing discussions, and it's premature to determine, you know, what the size of the force would be or if there'll be any force at that time because it's all dependent on the negotiations with the Iraqis. Having said that, one of the concerns we always have is the importance of providing adequate security, and I think that'll be one of the issues that will be involved in these negotiations.
ADM. MULLEN: I thought the secretary answered that really well. (Laughter.)
Q: (Off mic.)
ADM. MULLEN: Well, Jennifer, it's the same thing. I mean, we're in the middle of negotiations right now, so the specifics are just -- whatever you hear, the specifics are just not determined. And I think it's important -- again, I've been through this once, so for someone to say this is how the negotiations are going to come out, that -- they -- there is no one that can say that right now because it is a hard process to take into consideration, obviously, what -- how the Iraqis see their needs in the future, what they want their relationship with us to be. And then the specifics for both the State Department and the Defense Department are going to be worked out as a -- as a -- you know, inside that negotiation. And we're just not -- we're not there yet.
Q: And are you concerned about leaving too small a force as a military...
ADM. MULLEN: I'll let -- again, I -- we've looked at what the potential future missions could be.
Lloyd Austin has analyzed this to a fare-thee-well. I think it's going to be -- and the end, if there's any -- and I don't know that there will be -- if there's any, it will be focused and very well supported from a mission standpoint.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I wonder if you could comment on the $1.1 trillion in war reduction savings that the president announced. The $1.1 trillion?
SEC. PANETTA: Yes.
Q: Gordon Adams, who worked for you at OMB --
SEC. PANETTA: I remember that. (Laughter.)
Q: Yeah. He's called these savings phony. And his argument is that they're measured against a CBO baseline that doesn't include true war costs for the future, which are unknown; instead it has, like, a mechanical plug in there, just a rough, crude estimate of what it might be or might not be in the future.
SEC. PANETTA: Are you talking about the president's recommendations to the super committee?
SEC. PANETTA: Yeah. The -- I mean, the recommendations that are there, our people did discuss with OMB, at least some of the general areas that were included, and we were supportive of including those elements.
And I guess with regards to the numbers, my experience, having worked on budget issues, is that there are always disputes between OMB and CBO with regards to scoring, and there are going to be people that draw different numbers in terms of the savings, based on whatever baseline you're using. But I would say this. That if those -- if those recommendations are in fact implemented by the super committee, I think there would be significant savings.
And it's important to remember, as I've been stressing time and time again, that that committee has to focus on that part of the budget -- that two-thirds of the federal budget -- which up to this point has not been addressed in dealing with the deficit, in dealing with deficit reduction. And that's the mandatory's. Those are areas that do have to be included.
The president has made recommendations. I hope the super committee will take those recommendations and build on them, and include hopefully revenues as part of that package.
STAFF: We have time for two more.
Q: On this same topic, Mr. Secretary, you have said that you believe it's your role to make the case to Congress about why the sequester cuts are so dangerous. But there's a common understanding that even if the super committee comes up with a deal, doesn't fail, the sequester cuts aren't triggered, that committee could be cutting a couple hundred billion dollars more out of the defense budget. Could you talk about how involved you are in making this case directly to the super committee? Are you talking with them directly? And how are you making the case?
SEC. PANETTA: Sorry, I mean, I -- I've gone up to the Hill. I've met with members. I've made clear that what we're doing with the $450 billion plus that we now have to do will involve some very tough decisions, but I think that we can implement that in a way that's -- that gives us the best defense system in the world and that allows us to be able to defend this country and deal with the threats that are out there. But if additional cuts are added on top of that, either by virtue of sequester or by the super committee or by anybody else, then they're going to do serious damage to our ability to be able to make the kind of changes in our defense structure that are responsible and that do protect this country for the future.
So my message is that defense is taking, you know, more than its share of the cuts. We're doing in excess of $450 billion in reductions. We need to have the opportunity to be able to implement that in a responsible way. And if you're serious about dealing with the deficit, don't go back to the discretionary accounts. Pay attention to the two-thirds of the federal budget that is in large measure responsible for the size of the debt that we're dealing with.
Q: On Libya, President Obama said that there would be no U.S. boots on the ground for the combat mission. With the NATO mission, the combat mission coming, hopefully, to an end in the coming weeks, is it -- do the U.S. consider sending U.S. military personnel on the ground in Libya, or does it remain a policy of the U.S. not to have boots on the ground?
SEC. PANETTA: The only -- the only personnel we have put on the ground are to try to assist the State Department in reopening the embassy. We've deployed four individuals that have been there to analyze that situation. I think we did it about a week ago. And within the last few days, we've deployed another 12 to try to provide additional assistance to try to help in hopefully opening the embassy within the next few weeks. But that -- that's it. We have -- we have not and do not intend to put any combat forces on the ground.