Senate panel approves Panetta nomination for Defense secretary

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved Leon Panetta's nomination to become Defense secretary.

The panel sent the matter to the full Senate, which must sign off through a voice vote, a committee spokeswoman said in an email.

Panetta, the current CIA chief, appeared before the panel last Thursday for his confirmation hearing.

While he refused to provide a specific figure for how many U.S. troops could be removed from Afghanistan this year, but said Panetta said he and Gates typically agree on such issues.

While supporting President Obama’s call for $400 billion in national security funding cuts, Panetta told the panel those funding reductions should avoid creating a “hollowed” military force.

On Iraq, Panetta went the furthest of any Obama administration official yet in predicting Iraqi officials will ask Washington to keep American forces there beyond this year, when a security pact expires.