PANETTA: I think the president said it best of all, that this is a very tough fight that we are engaged in. There are some serious problems here. We're dealing with a tribal society. We're dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency. And yet, the fundamental purpose, the mission that the president has laid out is that we have to go after Al Qaida. We've got to disrupt and dismantle Al Qaida and their militant allies so they never attack this country again.
Are we making progress? We are making progress. It's harder, it's slower than I think anyone anticipated. But at the same time, we are seeing increasing violence, particularly in Kandahar and in Helmand provinces.
Is the strategy the right strategy? We think so, because we're looking at about 100,000 troops being added by the end of August. If you add 50,000 from NATO, you've got 150,000. That's a pretty significant force, combined with the Afghans.
But I think the fundamental key, the key to success or failure is whether the Afghans accept responsibility, are able to deploy an effective army and police force to maintain stability. If they can do that, then I think we're going to be able to achieve the kind of progress and the kind of stability that the president is after.
TAPPER: Have you seen any evidence that they're able to do that?
PANETTA: I think so. I think that what we're seeing even in a place like Marjah, where there's been a lot of attention -- the fact is that if you look at Marjah on the ground, agriculture, commerce is, you know, moving back to some degree of normality. The violence is down from a year ago. There is some progress there.
We're seeing some progress in the fact that there's less deterioration as far as the ability of the Taliban to maintain control. So we're seeing elements of progress, but this is going to be tough. This is not going to be easy, and it is going to demand not only the United States military trying to take on, you know, a difficult Taliban insurgency, but it is going to take the Afghan army and police to be able to accept the responsibility that we pass on to them. That's going to be the key.
TAPPER: It seems as though the Taliban is stronger now than when President Obama took office. Is that fair to say?
PANETTA: I think the Taliban obviously is engaged in greater violence right now. They're doing more on IED's. They're going after our troops. There's no question about that. In some ways, they are stronger, but in some ways, they are weaker as well.
I think the fact that we are disrupting Al Qaida's operations in the tribal areas of the Pakistan, I think the fact that we are targeting Taliban leadership -- you saw what happened yesterday with one of the leaders who was dressed as a woman being taken down -- we are engaged in operations with the military that is going after Taliban leadership. I think all of that has weakened them at the same time.
So in some areas, you know, with regards to some of the directed violence, they seem to be stronger, but the fact is, we are undermining their leadership, and that I think is moving in the right direction.
TAPPER: How many Al Qaida do you think are in Afghanistan?