By Cheryl Pellerin, American Forces Press ServiceSeptember 9, 2011
WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2011 -- In public appearances tonight and this weekend commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will pay tribute to all who have made sacrifices since 9/11, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.
Little, who briefed reporters here along with Joint Staff spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby, said Panetta will emphasize three key points.
"First, we must remember those who were killed and injured in New York, Shanksville and here at the Pentagon, where even on the day of the attacks the resolve to confront our terrorist enemies did not waiver," Little said.
The secretary will also will stress how grateful the American people are, Little added, for the service of millions of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who have deployed overseas over the past decade.
"Third, there's absolutely no doubt that for the past 10 years America has shown its profound resilience," the press secretary said. "That's part of the American character and is one of many reasons why the secretary believes America is a special place and a leader in the world."
As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Little added, the United States remains a nation at war.
"I hope we all keep in mind how very much the last 10 years have affected and been affected by the U.S. military," Kirby said.
Some two million American men and women have deployed in uniform to fight terrorism and secure our national interests, the captain said.
"More than 6,200 have come home to [the mortuary at] Dover Air Force Base. Nearly 46,000 have come home with Purple Hearts. Countless others still struggle with the invisible wounds of war," Kirby added.
"And we ought to remember today," the captain said, "that 200,000 of them are still out there, forward deployed around the world, doing what they have been trained to do and -- if I may take the liberty of speaking for them -- what they love to do."
On the anniversary of the attacks, Kirby said, "Americans can take pride in the readiness of their armed forces. Our allies and partners can take comfort in it. And our enemies should continue to take caution in it."
In Afghanistan, troops continue to take the fight to the enemy and are making progress, Little said.
In Iraq, the United States is drawing down combat forces and is in early stage talks with the Iraqi government about whether U.S. troops will stay on in some capacity after President Barack Obama's Dec. 31 deadline for troop withdrawal.
The State Department is leading the discussions, Little said, and a number of departments, agencies and elements of the U.S. government are involved in the process.
"At the base level," Kirby said, "it's a discussion about mission, capabilities and what gaps the Iraqis may believe they have and what we may be able to do to assist them in closing those gaps."
The Iraqis "understand what the timeline is, and we understand what the timeline is," Little said.
The American people should rest assured, he added, "that we're doing everything we possibly can to reach an agreement with Iraq -- not just in terms of troop presence for possibly extending beyond 2011, but also about the strategic relationship going forward."
As part of its ongoing response to 9/11, the United States, Little said, is "relentlessly pursuing al-Qaida and its militant allies" in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Yemen, in Somalia, in North Africa and elsewhere.
Today, he added, "Al-Qaida in Pakistan has come under unprecedented pressure. Aggressive counterterrorism operations have taken out some of their top leaders, to include Osama bin Laden. They continue to plan against us, but we are on their heels."
The insurgents remain dangerous, the press secretary said, "but they've had a tougher time of it recently because of strong collaboration inside the U.S. government [with] military, intelligence community and law enforcement agencies working closely together" and sharing information.
Structures have been put in place since 9/11, he said, "that enable us to make our nation safer. There are no guarantees, so we have to keep the pressure up, and that's exactly what we intend to do as a government."
In Pakistan, where the Pakistani military recently captured senior al-Qaida leader Younis al-Mauritania, Little said, there is progress in the complicated but essential relationship between the United States and that nation.
"We have both been the victims of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups," Little said, "and it's a common fight against a common set of enemies."
In Libya, where the United States continues to support NATO's Operation Unified Protector.
NATO began the operation on March 31 with the aim of protecting civilians and civilian-populated areas under attack or threat of attack by Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi's military.
According to NATO, the mission consists of an arms embargo, a no-fly zone and actions to protect civilians.
"This operation has shown the power of international partnership and I think by any measure at this point it's been a success," Little said.
"The no-fly zone, the civilian protection mission [and] the cooperation between the United States and our NATO partners," he added, "has been critical to the success we've seen."
Gadhafi loyalists are still fighting, Little said, but the momentum "has clearly turned to anti-Gadhafi forces and to the [Libyan National Transitional Council] and it's a matter of time now before Gadhafi goes."
The NATO mission, Kirby said, "is about helping take away [Gadhafi's] ability to further violence on his own people. It's not about him personally or him as the commander or commander in chief of his forces. This is really about protecting people from the regime itself, and we continue to do that."
All these successful efforts, Little said, have grown from unprecedented cooperation among the military, intelligence and law enforcement communities since the attacks in 2001.
"In these and other areas throughout the world, we honor those who are serving and who have served," Little said. "They have shown extraordinary courage, ceaseless determination and boundless patriotism."