KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
has arrived in Afghanistan for his first visit since taking over at the Pentagon.
Panetta, who just stepped down as CIA director, flew overnight from Washington and arrived Saturday in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
Aides say Panetta wants to discuss with Karzai the U.S. plan to pull out 10,000 American troops this year and 23,000 more next year.
That drawdown is starting this month and officials say it will accelerate late in the year.
Panetta will meet with the outgoing top U.S. commander in
Afghanistan, Army Gen. David Petraeus, and his successor, Marine
Gen. John R. Allen. Petraeus is taking over as CIA director.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says al-Qaida's defeat is "within reach."
Panetta said there's been enormous damage done to al-Qaida beyond the killing of Osama bin Laden in May.
The raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan also yielded new intelligence insights and Panetta says that eliminating as few as 10 of al-Qaida's top figures could cripple its ability to strike the West.
Army Gen. David Petraeus says the gains raise the prospect of a
"strategic dismantling of al-Qaida."
The assessment could stoke the debate in Washington over how
soon to pull the U.S. military from Afghanistan where bin Laden's
network launched the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 against the United
Panetta had dinner with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but the
two did not hold a joint news conference after, as has been customary when an American defense secretary visits the capital.