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Leon Panetta makes unplanned visit to Afghanistan over troop withdrawal

Leon Panetta landed in Afghanistan Wednesday to check on the US military's pullout.

Panetta afghanistan karzaiEnlarge
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta listens as he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey (out of frame) conduct a Pentagon press conference September 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. Panetta slammed Hamid Karzai this week over his comments about the US military presence in Afghanistan. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan Wednesday for unannounced meetings with top US military commanders and President Hamid Karzai about the NATO pullout slated for 2014.  

The US Defense Secretary said that the recommendations for troop levels post-drawdown will be presented to President Obama, who will consider them over the next few weeks, according to the New York Times

Panetta did not disclose the options under Obama's consideration, but officials have predicted he will settle on somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 troops, the Associated Press reported. Currently, there are around 66,000 American troops in Afghanistan.

"One of the things that Obama and Karzai have always agreed on is the need for a reduced force presence," a US official told the Los Angeles Times. "I could see them both wanting zero, but at the end of the day I don't think that will happen."

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However, fears remain that Afghan forces will struggle to fight a still-powerful insurgency after US troops leave. Many terrorist groups remain based in neighboring Pakistan, which has had chilly relations with the US leading up to the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Islamabad last year, CNN reported

However, Panetta remained optimistic.  

“It is clear to me that we are today in a far better place than we were four years ago, despite some very real challenges that remain in the region" including "a resilient Taliban," Panetta told reporters, according to the Washington Post

The US Defense Secretary is expected to retire in the coming weeks, and did not comment on the affair scandal that has drawn in General John Allen, the outgoing commander in Afghanistan, Agence France Presse reported

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/afghanistan/121212/leon-panetta-visit-afghanistan-troop-withdrawal%20