BREAKING: Panetta opens combat roles to women

AP: Senior defense officials say Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is removing the US military’s ban on women serving in combat. The move opens hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs.

The groundbreaking move overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller combat ground units. Military services have until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

U.S. to strengthen presence in the Pacific, Panetta says

From Stars and Stripes:

Identifying himself as a son of the U.S. Pacific coast, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promised there would be a stronger American military presence in the Pacific, and in Southeast Asia in particular, in the years to come.

Panetta, on his first trip to the Asia-Pacific region since taking office, met Sunday with Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro to discuss growing bilateral military relations and broader issues facing Southeast Asia. Chief among those issues: China’s growing assertiveness in an area it considers its own backyard.

“I’ve made it very clear… that the United States remains a Pacific power, that we will continue to strengthen our presence in this part of the world and that we will remain a force for peace and prosperity in this region,” Panetta said.

Panetta said the United States would push for free commerce and open access in the sea and in the air. The comments were seemingly aimed at China’s recent territorial claims – disputed by various Southeast Asian countries – to the South China Sea.

The U.S. supports the ongoing development of a maritime code of conduct for the South China Sea being drawn up by Southeast Asian nations and China, Panetta said, as a tool for avoiding conflict there.

Despite some pugnacious initial talk, he said, China’s reaction to recent U.S. arms sales to Taiwan has been commendably measured – something that augers well for improved U.S.-China relations.

Asian allies have expressed concerns that looming Pentagon budget cuts would result in force reductions and a decreased scope of American power in Asia, Panetta said. But the region is too important to U.S. security to downgrade, he said.

Panetta met late Sunday with defense ministers from 10 nations at a meeting of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, to discuss regional issues including disaster relief, nuclear nonproliferation and freedom of navigation on the seas.

“I’ve made clear that even with the budget constraints that we are facing in the United States… that there is no question in discussions within the Pentagon and discussions with the White House that the Pacific will be a priority for the United States of America,” he said.

Panetta was scheduled to meet early Monday with Indonesian President Susilo Bambeng Yudhoyono before flying to Japan. There, meetings with defense officials are expected to be dominated by the realignment of American military bases on Okinawa.

One key, Panetta said, is for the Japanese government to show that progress is being made on an environmental assessment of a controversial plan to move the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a nearby location built on landfill in the ocean. Locals have vigorously opposed the plan, part of a larger regional base realignment worked out between Japan and the United States in 2006.

But Panetta said the U.S. military is still strongly behind the 2006 plan.

“I will make clear to them that we continue to support our commitment with Japan with regards to Futenma and with regard to Okinawa,” he said. “My goal will be to ensure that steps are being taken to try to fulfill that commitment.”

Defense Ministerial Day 2 Roundup

Defense Ministers got an early start this morning at NATO HQ with lots of things to discuss on the second and final day of the Defense Ministerial. 

First, the Defense Chiefs met in KFOR format, meaning there were represenatives from the 23 Allies and 7 Partners that contribute the 6,148 troops to the mission in Kosovo present. The Defence Ministers reviewed the implications of the security situation on NATO troop levels in Kosovo and reiterated that NATO’s goal is to keep moving towards a smaller and more flexible troop presence when circumstances allow and when the time is right. 

Before the meeting started, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen noted that “KFOR has done an excellent job in maintaining a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo. And it will continue to fully implement its mandate”,  and that over the last several months, “the security situation on the ground has improved” and the people of Kosovo now enjoy a ”greater freedom of movement.”

Next, Defense Chiefs met in ISAF Format; all 28 Allies and 22 contributing Partners. Ministers reflected both on progress and on remaining challenges in the country, and chief among these challenges are insider attacks. Ministers endorsed a broad political framework for a new training, advising and assisting mission in Afghanistan post-2014, which is the first political step that will guide NATO’s military authorities as they take the planning process forwards for this new mission.

After a working lunch break, Secretary Panetta held a meeting with Afghanistan’s new Minister of Defense, General Bismillah Mohammadi, to discuss a number of issues pertaining to the ISAF Mission and U.S.-Afghan bilateral relations. 

In the afternoon, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen gave a press briefing on progress made during the day. He emphasized that real progress has been made in Afghanistan and that the security situation is improving. Despite a spat of insider attacks, the Secretary General made clear that ISAF’s “goals, strategy, and timeline remain unchaged.” Insider attacks, he continued, are aimed at “underminind the trust and confidence” built between ISAF and ANSF troops, but will not succeed or hinder the mission. 

Shortly after the Secretary General spoke, Secretary Panetta took the stage to announce the nomination of General John Allen, currently the Commander of ISAF (COMISAF) in Afghanistan, as the new Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR). Panetta also announced that President Obama has nominated General Joseph Dunford as the new COMISAF. Secretary Panetta expressed his confidence in both Generals in their new roles within the NATO Command Structure and gave them his full support. 

While making these announcements, the Secretary spoke of three “keys for success” in Afghanistan. First, he called for NATO to maintain a strong coalition partnership with the ANSF and continue to help build the Afghan army and police’s capabilities in maintaining their own security. Second, Secretary Panetta said the Alliance must have an effective response to insider attacks, and take action to diminish and defeat them. Finally, the Secretary said that the Alliane must carefuly execute its plans and that NATO’s future presense in Afghanistan must be “steadfast and effective” as the mission timeline moves forward and ISAF continues to step back. 

After his announcements, Secretary Panetta took the stage once again to answer journalists’ questions. He reiterated the U.S.’s committement to Turkey’s security as a NATO ally and that all efforts are being made to aid Turkey on the humanitarian front in dealing with countless refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, and monitoring the status of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons. 

Immediately after the briefing, Secretary Panetta joined his Spanish counterpart in the U.S. Mission to sign an agreement on the hosting of American Aegis destroyers in Spain as part of NATO’s ongoing efforts in missile defense. The Secretary said that the agreement “not only strengthens missile defense for Europe, but also the relationship within NATO” and “betters our ability to promote peace throughout the world.” 

Finally, Secretary Panetta took the time to present the Department of Defense’s Joint Meritorious Unit Award to U.S. Mission to NATO staff for their work during the Libya campaign last year. At the ceremony, he expressed his gratitude to the Mission staff for their hard work during the crisis, and extended his personal recognition of that work. The award is granted to units or personnel who operate under a Unified, Combined, or Specified Command channels or pursue a joint mission - NATO’s operation in Libya falls well within this category. 

After the ceremony, Secretary Panetta and his motorcade left NATQ HQ to head back to the airport and home to the United States. A short trip, but one during which a lot was accomplished!

Make sure to keep checking our Tumblr and follow the US Mission to NATO and Ambassador Daalder on twitter for the latest on what’s happening at NATO HQ! 

(Photos taken by Erin Kirk-Cuomo and USNATO staff)

This Week in War. A Friday round-up of what happened and what’s been written in the world of war and military/security affairs this week. It’s a mix of news reports, policy briefs, blog posts and longform journalism.

Photo: Missiles and ammunitions cache discovered by border police in Goshta District, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. January 14. Rahmat Gul/AP.

Panetta says Iraqis can secure and defend themselves. That’s not what we found on my last trip to Iraq, see video. 

In his first visit to Israel as United States Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta stressed America’s “unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.” In a meeting with Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Panetta said that Israel and America share a closer defense relationship than ever before.

Leon Panetta's Five Rules for Doing Business, or, "Any Asshole Can Burn Down a Barn."

“You can’t slam dunk anyone.” Work with opponents.

“Any [expletive] can burn down a barn; it takes a leader to build one.”

“He who controls the paper controls the outcome.”

“Never let them see you sweat.”

“In a negotiation, take what you can get. And then come back for more.”

Via the New York Times.

Anyone want to place a bet on the [expletive]? We’re going with “asshole.”

Maybe “shmuck,” but would the Times really redact that?

Wait, one more: Hillary Clinton version — “It takes a village to burn down a barn.” Right? Right?

US rescinds military ban on women serving in combat

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey formally signed a memo today to rescind a 1994 military ban on women serving in combat.

"It’s clear to all of us that women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military," Panetta said. "If members of our military can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation."

More on Panetta and Dempsey’s remarks from

Photo: Sergeant Crystal Groves, a U.S. Marine, stands in formation during a ceremony for the 235th birthday of the Marines on Nov. 10, 2010, at Camp Delaram in Helmand province, Afghanistan. (Paula Bronstein / Getty Images)