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Secretary of Defense to Pendleton Marines in Stationed in Afghanistan: "We'd Like to Bring All of You Home This Summer, But Gas is Slated to Hit $5 A Gallon By July."

"It is crucial that we conduct the troop drawdown as planned, and not rush our withdrawal just because of unfortunate incidents. Airplane fuel is expensive, dammit."

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CLASSIFIED LOCATION, HELMAND PROVINCE - United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta paid a surprise visit to the Marine 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division out of Camp Pendleton today. During his address to the troops, he displayed a level of blunt candor not ordinarily associated with high-ranking government officials. But, he said, "given the tension surrounding the American presence in Afghanistan in the wake of two disastrous events, your government thinks you are owed a word of explanation." Panetta was thought to be referring to the accidental burning of several copies of the Koran at a United States airbase near Kabul, and also to last weekend's shooting of 16 Afghans by a United States soldier.

"The President said yesterday that adhering to the timetable was a matter of - well, who knows, really? Lord knows it's not as if Afghanistan is going to be able to keep a lid on the bad guys once we're gone, no matter how long we stay. But right now, you guys are the ones at risk, and so we feel we owe you the truth. We need to wait until at least after the summer, when the vacation prices for gasoline retreat back to - we're hoping - under $4 a gallon. And if Iran makes that an impossibility with all their nonsense around the Strait of Hormuz, you can bet we won't waste any more time with economic sanctions. Hell, some of you might even end up down there, helping to free up the oil necessary to get you home."

"But don't worry about getting sent to Syria," concluded Panetta, hoping to sound a comforting note. "We spun the big wheel in the Oval Office, and it looks like [Syrian president Bashar] Assad gets a pass on this one, no matter how many thousands of his own he manages to slaughter. Crazy world, huh?"

Afterwards, a Camp Pendleton-based Marine who spoke on condition of anonymity quipped, "I guess now we know why we were required to leave our weapons outside."

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