Panetta says Taliban is weakened, but US still has ‘fight on our hands'

While the Taliban is on the ropes in Afghanistan, U.S. and coalition forces must keep up the pressure to guarantee those forces can't regroup after American troops leave in 2014, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Sunday. 

"The Taliban, my view is that they have been weakened.  We have not seen them able to conduct any kind of organized attack to regain any territory that they’ve lost," Panetta said during an interview on ABC's “This Week” on Sunday. 

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"We’ve seen levels of violence going down [in Afghanistan]. So, we’re on the right track," he said. 

Panetta's comments were in response to claims by two top intelligence lawmakers that the Taliban was increasing in strength and influence across Afghanistan.

“I think we'd both say that what we found is that the Taliban is getting stronger," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), head of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said on May 5 on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), agreed that emboldened Taliban forces were simply lying in wait until the bulk of American forces are withdrawn from the country. 


"This is a huge problem. And what we have found is maybe the policies, the announced date of withdrawal . . . have worked against what our endgame is here,” Rogers said during the same May 5 CNN interview. 

The Taliban's increased use of suicide bombings and double-agents inside the Afghan military to kill U.S. and coalition soldiers, known as "green-on-blue" attacks, has been cited as proof of the Taliban's resurgence. 

These type of attacks have increased as American and coalition forces begin their spring offensive against Taliban targets in Eastern Afghanistan. 

However, Panetta noted the gains made by U.S. and NATO forces against the Taliban over the past decade have forced the group to take such extreme measures on the battlefield. 

Those tactics, according to Panetta, are "an indication again that because they can’t organize efforts to come at us, they’re going to use this kind of [attack] to try to frighten us." 

Panetta also argued the White House timeline for the Afghan withdrawal was vital to the American endgame in the country. 

"The only way to get this [mission] 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," he said. 

But the Pentagon chief warned that these final two years of the Afghan war will be a tough slog to the finish line, punctuated by the deaths of more American soldiers in the run up to the 2014 withdrawal. 

"We still have a fight on our hands," Panetta said. "The American people need to know that [and] the world needs to know that we still have a fight on our hands."