Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) - Mitt Romney swept into Nevada on Wednesday evening and sharply criticized Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for declaring that the United States and NATO plan to end combat operations in Afghanistan sometime in 2013.
Romney said the public announcement jeopardizes the Afghanistan mission and “our commitments to freedom.”
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“He announced that so the Taliban hears it, the Pakistanis hear it, the Afghan leaders hear it,” Romney said of Panetta during a rally in Las Vegas. “Why in the world do you go to the people that you are fighting with and tell them the day you are pulling out your troops? It makes absolutely no sense.”
The former Massachusetts governor cast the decision as a sign of the Obama administration’s “naivete.”
“He is wrong,” Romney said, drawing a booming applause. “We need new leadership in Washington.”
The campaign stop was Romney’s first in Nevada, which holds its Republican caucuses on Saturday, since his blowout win in the Florida primary the previous night.
More than 1,000 sign-waving supporters turned out to see Romney - who appeared with his wife Ann and Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki - at Brady Industries, a janitorial supply and dry cleaning company that has been based in Las Vegas since 1947.
The trio spoke in a warehouse stocked with boxes of wholesale cleaning supplies, many of them manufactured in China.
Romney is widely considered to be the Nevada frontrunner, with Ron Paul nipping at his heels.
Krolicki acknowledged the local enthusiasm for Romney but urged the crowd not to get too confident.
“It’s not time to celebrate,” he said. “We will celebrate Saturday night.”