Panetta: Syrian military should remain intact after Assad's exit

U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta said on Monday that the government forces in Syria should be held together when President Bashar al-Assad exits in an effort to preserve stability and safeguard chemical weapons.

Panetta said that preserving stability would be necessary in any scenario that causes Assad to be forced from power. He added that keeping the government intact would avoid a repetition of the mistakes of the Iraq war, Reuters reports.

"I think it's important when Assad leaves, and he will leave, to try to preserve stability in that country," Panetta said, according to CNN. "The best way to preserve that kind of stability is to maintain as much of the military and police as you can, along with security forces, and hope that they will transition to a democratic form of government. That's the key."

Panetta said that such stability would be particularly important when it comes to securing chemical weapon sites in the tension-filled nation.

"Particularly when it comes to things like the chemical sites, (Syrian forces) do a pretty good job of securing those sites," Panetta said, according to CNN. "If they suddenly walked away from that, it would be a disaster to have those chemical weapons fall into the wrong hands, hands of Hezbollah or other extremists in that area."