WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama bade a fond farewell to retiring US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at a ceremony on Friday and voiced strong support for his nominated successor, Chuck Hagel, who was attacked by Republicans at a contentious Senate confirmation hearing last week.
Panetta, in his 19 months as Pentagon chief, ended the ban on women serving in front-line combat roles and oversaw the integration of gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. The Iraq war ended and the last Afghanistan "surge" troops came home on his watch.
But he may be remembered most for his work before he came to the Pentagon in July 2011, as the CIA director who helped oversee the raid earlier that year that killed Osama bin Laden.
Obama noted the progress against al Qaeda under Panetta's tenure and added that "we've been relentless against its affiliates."