Panetta hearings set for next Thursday

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold confirmation hearings next week for President Obama's pick to lead the Pentagon.

The panel said in a statement released Thursday that Leon Panetta will appear before the panel twice next Thursday.

The current CIA director, who would replace Robert Gates as defense secretary, will testify before the Senate committee in an open morning hearing. He also will appear before the committee in a closed afternoon session.

There are no shortage of issues about which the senators are likely to want to hear about from Panetta.

How to end the Iraq war, what number of troops can be removed from Afghanistan, how to trim Defense spending, and the blurring of the traditional lines between military and intelligence matters are all probable topics for both hearings.

If confirmed, Panetta would have big shoes to fill. President Obama and a score of national security officials and experts say Gates has had one of the best runs any defense secretary has had. Gates was the only cabinet official to be a holdover from the Bush administration.

On Thursday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said Gates' handling of budget trimming and weapons program terminations was the "finest" he has ever seen from a defense secretary.