SHANKSVILLE, Pennsylvania — US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Americans not to forget the troops who are fighting and dying in Afghanistan, as he paid tribute to the victims of the 9/11 attacks on Monday.
In a visit to a memorial in southwestern Pennsylvania honoring the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 that was hijacked on September 11, 2001, Panetta said the fight against the Al-Qaeda militants behind the attacks was not over, and that US soldiers were still in harm's way.
"I pray that as we remember 9/11, and the terrible things that took place on 9/11, that we will also take the time to remind ourselves of the sacrifices that have been made by those who have fought and died in order to make sure that it not happen again," Panetta told reporters.
"My concern is that too often we do not express our concern and our attention to those who are fighting and dying for this country. We're continuing to lose good men and women in battle in Afghanistan," he said.
He drew a connection between the passengers of Flight 93, who struggled with their hijackers and foiled an apparent attempt by Al-Qaeda to strike Washington, and US troops waging war against Taliban insurgents eleven years later in Afghanistan.
The US soldiers are "putting their lives on the line every day," he said.
"That kind of sacrifice, that kind of commitment, that kind of dedication, that kind of courage is what makes this country strong.
"And we had damn well better remember that every day."
Panetta's impassioned plea to honor the roughly 77,000 American troops deployed in Afghanistan came in the middle of a presidential campaign that has barely touched on the conflict or foreign policy.
The war in Afghanistan, launched after the 9/11 attacks over the Taliban's alliance with Al-Qaeda, has steadily lost popular support but has generated no massive street protests or bitter debate similar to the one surrounding the Iraq conflict.
A growing majority of Americans oppose the US military presence there and support NATO's plan to withdraw most combat forces by the end of 2014.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »