Panetta to visit Turkey after trip to Afghanistan

Panetta to visit Turkey after trip to Afghanistan

KABUL / FOB SHARANA, Afghanistan
Panetta to visit Turkey after trip to Afghanistan

US Secretary of Defense Panetta talks to military personnel at a forward operating base in Sharana, Afghanistan. AP photo

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to visit Turkey today for talks focusing on enhancing defense cooperation and the ongoing fight against terrorism, Turkish diplomatic sources said.

Panetta is coming from Afghanistan where he told U.S. troops yesterday they were winning the 10-year war against terrorist networks during a visit focused on handing over security to Afghans as U.S. troops withdraw.

Panetta’s two-day Turkey visit comes just two weeks before the end of the year, by which time a U.S. radar system will be installed in eastern Turkey as part of NATO’s missile shield project, officials have said. The radar, prompting Iranian reactions against Turkey, will also be on Panetta’s agenda, sources said. On the agenda for talks with Panetta are the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), recognized by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, and a $111 million defense deal between Ankara and Washington, diplomatic sources told the Hürriyet Daily News. Panetta is also expected to raise the issue of Turkey’s strained relations with Israel.

Afghan visit
Yesterday Panetta was in Afghanistan to review the war effort with the U.S., on track to recall 33,000 troops by the end of the next year. America is shifting its focus to an advisory role in training Afghan security forces. “We’re moving in the right direction and we’re winning this very tough conflict,” he told troops at Forward Operating Base Sharana, 56 km from the Pakistan border in the southeastern Afghan province of Paktika.

In October, the Pentagon said Taliban attacks were down for the first time in five years but insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan were feeding violence on the border and threatening the war effort. “Are there challenges out there? You’re damn right, there are challenges. Are we gonna be able to take on those challenges? You’re damn right we will,” Panetta told the troops.

Meanwhile, after a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta President Hamid Karzai said yesterday Afghanistan did not want to be involved in any hostilities between the U.S. and Iran, after a U.S. reconnaissance drone was captured by the Islamic republic. “Afghanistan should maintain and has maintained a very friendly relationship with Iran so we don’t want to be involved in any adversarial relation between Iran and the U.S.,” he said.