Panetta, next Defense secretary, backs responsible troop cuts

By LOLITA C. BALDOR | June 7, 2011 | 5:14 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Leon Panetta says he supports a "responsible" military withdrawal in Afghanistan beginning next month, sidestepping questions on whether he backs the "significant" drawdown President Barack Obama has pledged.

Panetta says the U.S. has made enough progress in the Afghan war to give Obama meaningful options for the troop withdrawal. But he says the size and pace will depend on battlefield conditions. Panetta is the CIA director who has been tapped to be the next defense secretary.

He will face pointed questioning about the war's progress from senators at his nomination hearing Thursday. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and military commanders have urged a modest drawdown that would not jeopardize security gains.

Panetta's comments came in a Senate questionnaire that he prepared for the hearing. It was obtained by The Associated Press.