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“If that cooperation starts, we will be able to disrupt their command and control, disrupt their training, disrupt their weapon recruitment and also will be able to eliminate or capture their leadership.”

“Without doing that, I think our endeavor to achieve victory will become much more difficult.”

Panetta arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday to take stock of progress in the war and discuss plans for the troop drawdown, even as violence spiked in the south.

Making his fourth trip to the war zone as defense secretary, Panetta acknowledged the increase in attacks and that the insurgents appear to be much more organized. But he insisted that the overall level of violence was down, and that commanders had expected the uptick.

Panetta said he wants to get an assessment of the situation from the top U.S. commander, Marine Gen. John Allen, and see how confident he is about NATO’s ability to confront the threats both from the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

“I think it’s important to make sure we are aware of the kind of attacks they’re going to engage in … as we go through the rest of the summer,” Panetta told reporters traveling with him during a stop in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday.

Speaking to troops gathered Thursday at the airport in Kabul, Panetta kept up the drumbeat on Pakistan that began during his visit to India. Panetta told the troops that “we have every responsibility to defend ourselves and we are going to make very clear that we are prepared to take them on and we’ve got to put pressure on Pakistan to take them on as well.”

Panetta spoke in Kabul just a day after three suicide attackers blew themselves up in a marketplace in southern Afghanistan, killing 22 people and wounding at least 50 others. In the east, meanwhile, Afghan officials and residents said a pre-dawn NATO airstrike targeting militants killed civilians celebrating a wedding, including women and children. A NATO forces spokesman said the coalition had no reports of civilians being killed in a raid, but was investigating the allegations of civilian casualties.

Allen has to withdraw 23,000 American troops by the end of September, leaving about 68,000 U.S. military personnel in the country. Officials have said the bulk of the 23,000 probably will not come out until shortly before the deadline.

As those troops leave, Allen has said that Afghan forces will be used to fill in the gaps in the eastern and southwestern parts of the country. They will be buttressed by U.S. advisory teams that will work with the Afghan units.

Once the 23,000 U.S. troops depart, Allen is expected to review how the fighting season is going and then will begin to put together an analysis for President Barack Obama on how troop withdrawals will proceed next year.

The defense secretary also joked with troops at the Kabul airport about the U.S. strike that killed an al Qaeda leader Monday, saying, “the worst job you can get these days is to be a deputy leader in al Qaeda, or for that matter a leader”