Full Transcript: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

And, thirdly, I think overall, what we're seeing is the basic training that's going into the Afghan army is one that truly is testing the qualifications and quality of individuals that are going to be fighting on behalf of Afghanistan. All of those elements give us some level of confidence that we can protect against that kind of threat.

JAKE TAPPER, ABC HOST: (Tapper clears his throat) Mitt Romney's had this to say about the president's Afghan strategy and the date certain.


FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You just scratch your head and say how can you be so misguided? And so naïve? His secretary of defense said that on a date certain, the middle of 2013, we're going to pull out our combat troops from Afghanistan. He announced that. He announced that 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 day you're pulling out your troops?


TAPPER: Now, first of all, there's a factual error that Mr. Romney made that I'm sure you want to correct, but the larger point about giving a date certain for the withdrawal or the end of the combat mission, could you address that as well after you correct him?


PANETTA: Well, Okay. You know, I think without getting into the campaign rhetoric of what he's asserting, I think you've got 50 nations in NATO that agree to a plan in Afghanistan. That's what happened in Chicago and it is a fulfillment of Lisbon. It's the Lisbon agreement, an agreement that, you know, others, President Bush, President Obama, everyone has agreed is the direction that we go in in Afghanistan.

What is that direction? It's to take us to a point where we draw down by the end of 2014. In together, out together. And part of that transition involves in 2013 being able to take the combat mission and be able to put that in the hands of the Afghanistan army so that they can conduct those operations.

We'll be there. We'll still provide support. We'll still protect ourselves in that process. That is the plan that has been agreed to. And it's a plan that is working.

And very frankly, the only way to get this accomplished in terms of the transition that we have to go through is to be able to set the kind of timelines that have been set here in order to ensure that we fulfill the mission of an Afghanistan that governs and secures itself. That's what this is about.

TAPPER: You can't get the Afghans to do this without saying we're leaving on this date?

PANETTA: We can't get them to do it without saying we have to partner with you in an effort, working together, to arrive at points where we can make a successful transition. This is about transition.

This is not being there forever. The United States is not going to be there forever. We shouldn't be there forever. Neither should ISAF be there forever. But what we should do is be able to do everything possible to ensure that the Afghan country has the sovereignty to secure and govern itself. That's going to be the key to success in the future, and that's what we're putting in place today.

TAPPER: But you've talked about -- you mentioned Pakistan just a minute ago about the fact that there is a safe haven in Pakistan for insurgents -- for the insurgents for the Taliban. This week, the Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. find bin Laden was sentenced to 33 years in prison by the Pakistan government.

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