LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Continuing his offensive against President Obama's national-security stances, Mitt Romney on Wednesday accused Defense Secretary Leon Panetta of being "misguided and naive" for announcing earlier that the U.S.-led NATO coalition would end its combat role in Afghanistan next year.
The Obama administration had previously promised that the United States would keep troops in Afghanistan until 2014, but Panetta told reporters traveling with him in Brussels that the shrinking of its military footprint hopefully could occur in the mid- to latter part of 2013.
Romney, at a rally in Las Vegas, said some administration actions "are calculated on a philosophy that's hard to understand and sometimes you scratch you head and say how can he be so misguided and so naive? Today his secretary of defense unleashed such a policy."
He added, "So the Taliban hears it, the Pakistanis hear it, the Afghan leaders hear it. Why in the world do you go to the people that you're fighting with and tell them the date you're pulling out your troops? It makes absolutely no sense. His naivete is putting in jeopardy the mission of the United States of America and our commitments to freedom. He is wrong. We need new leadership in Washington."
A Panetta spokesman defended the decision, saying "the fact that we can start to look ahead in Afghanistan is a strong sign of progress in the war effort. Our commitment to Afghanistan is enduring, and we will work with the Afghans and our allies to ensure that the country never again becomes a safe haven for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups."
The war has become increasingly unpopular with Americans, according to polls. A CNN/ORC International poll last fall found 63 percent saying they opposed U.S. involvement, with more than half — 58 percent — telling pollsters they likened the conflict to the Vietnam War.
Rep. Ron Paul earlier expressed skepticism in reacting to Panetta's remarks. The Texas Republican, who steadfastly opposes sending U.S. troops overseas, said, "It's a great idea; I'll believe it when I see it."