WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Sunday labeled Mitt Romney's attacks on the withdrawal strategy in Afghanistan "campaign rhetoric" and defended the 2014 drawdown date.
"I think you know without getting into the campaign rhetoric of what he's asserting, I think you've got 50 nations in NATO that agree to a plan in Afghanistan," Panetta said on ABC's "This Week." "It's the Lisbon agreement, an agreement that, you know, others, President Bush, President Obama, everyone has agreed is the direction that we go in in Afghanistan."
"That is the plan that has been agreed to. And it's a plan that is working," Panetta said. NATO and Afghanistan reaffirmed their long-term commitment to a political framework for future cooperation, including the 2014 date, at the NATO Lisbon Summit in 2010.
On the campaign trail, Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has targeted making the Afghanistan timeline known as a "naïve" step by Panetta and Obama. Although he has not contested the 2014 date, he has voiced opposition to making such timetables available to those that might seek to harm the U.S.
"Why in the world do you go to the people that you're fighting with and tell them the day you're pulling out your troops?" Romney said at a campaign event in February that was quoted to Panetta during Sunday's interview.
But Panetta, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said a timeline is the only way to have a successful transition to Afghan forces.
"The only way to get this 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," Panetta said. "That's what this is about."