Panetta to Congress: 'We Are Not Going to Hollow Out the Force'

Despite Afghanistan pull-out, Defense Secretary advocates 'investing' in military.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, shown above, said Afghan President Hamid Karzai will meet with President Obama in Washington.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, shown above, said Afghan President Hamid Karzai will meet with President Obama in Washington.

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The Secretary of Defense called out Congress Tuesday, saying the budget requirements Capitol Hill sent to the Pentagon may not work with his vision of a modern military.

Leon Panetta broke from his prepared remarks while speaking at the Willard Hotel Tuesday to address the congressional mandate that the Defense Department downsize by $487 billion over the next decade.

As the U.S. continues with plans to draw down in Afghanistan by 2014, Panetta says this is a critically important time to break tradition and reinvest in America's offensive strength.

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"This is not like periods in the past where we come out of a period of war and the threats diminish and everyone starts cutting the hell out of the defense budget," he says, while speaking at a Center for a New American Security event. "We are not going to hollow out the force as we have done in the past."

Threats against the U.S. are no longer diminished by withdrawing from war zones, he says, such as after the Korean War or World War II. Following 11 years of fighting in Afghanistan, America is still fighting major issues and threats.

The War on Terror has spread to the world theater, Panetta says.

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"Having worked on budgets and worked at the Department of Defense, I do not believe we have to choose between our national security and our fiscal security," he says.

Instead, there are new, important realms in which the government should dedicate more resources, he says. "It can't be all about cutting, it has to be about investing."

The Pentagon needs money to develop cyber security, unmanned systems such as aerial drones, and "capabilities to mobilize quickly if we have to."

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America's military must be smaller and leaner, but also "agile, deployable, flexible and on the cutting edge of technology."

He also cited the importance of a rotational presence in developing countries to help them improve their own capabilities, as well as bolstering the defense industry at home to avoid contracting out "important defense capabilities" overseas.

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The secretary chided Congress for its inability to pass a budget since 2009. Panetta, who represented California in Congress for 16 years and previously served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, pointed particularly to the threats of sequestration and falling off the "fiscal cliff."

"I frankly worry that our political system will prevent us from making the investments in diplomacy and development that we need to ensure we protect America's interest in these volatile regions of the world," he says. "At the same time of all of those challenges, I have to be able, we have to be able to take care of our service members, our veterans and their families."

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Paul D. Shinkman is a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at pshinkman@usnews.com.