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Panetta: Polls won't change Afghan strategy

By Paula Newton, CNN
March 27, 2012 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says public opinion will not change the administration's Afghan war timeline.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says public opinion will not change the administration's Afghan war timeline.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Secretary of Defense: "We cannot fight wars by polls"
  • New poll shows 69% of Americans want U.S. out of Afghanistan
  • Panetta is in Canada for meeting with Canadian, Mexican officials

Ottawa (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Tuesday polls would not change the strategy in Afghanistan, underscoring the fact that he realizes the American people have tired of war.

"We cannot fight wars by polls," Panetta said in Ottawa, where he was attending a trilateral defense meeting with Canadian and Mexican officials.

Panetta was responding to a new New York Times/CBS poll showing that 69% of Americans want troops out of Afghanistan.

"There's no question that the American people have tired of war just like the Afghan people have tired of war," he added before stressing that the U.S. government would continue with its strategy in Afghanistan.

"We have to operate based on what we believe is the best strategy to achieve the mission that we are embarked on. And the mission ... is to safeguard our country by ensuring that the Taliban and al Qaeda never again find a safe haven in Afghanistan," Panetta said.

NATO deaths impact withdrawal?

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby in Washington strongly echoed Panetta's sentiment, saying the military's job is not to be driven by sentiments expressed in polls.

When asked the reaction to the poll from Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, Kirby said, "His concern as a military commander in the field is getting the job done."

In Ottawa, the defense summit was billed as a historic one as the three countries tried to coordinate more security efforts, especially in the area of counternarcotics.

As well as embarking on a joint trilateral defense threat assessment, the U.S., Canada and Mexico pledged to do more to confront and combat drug cartels on the continent.

"I think all of us think today has been an important day because I think all of us recognize the importance of dealing with this threat to North America, this threat to security, this threat to our people," Panetta said.

Officials described a sobering presentation given by Mexican military officials outlining the scope and seriousness of the challenge in bringing drug traffickers and gang members to justice.

Specifically, military officials said there would be more time spent on patrolling waters and inspecting things like shipping containers that cross borders. They also said they were working to share more intelligence in a timely manner.

"This very ambitious goal of coordinating our efforts goes beyond any one specific threat," Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay said.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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