WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously approved Leon Panettas nomination to be US defense secretary on Tuesday, setting the stage for a full senate confirmation. Panetta, 72, who has served President Barack Obama as CIA chief, was expected to sail to confirmation by the full US Senate, though the precise timing of a final vote was not yet clear. In a break with outgoing Pentagon chief Robert Gates, Panetta said last week that he supported the withdrawal of a significant number of troops from Afghanistan next month. Obama is currently weighing how quickly to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as the military works to put Afghans in charge of their own security by 2014 and wrap up what is now an almost decade-long war. The president has said the withdrawal of troops will begin in July, but that the timetable would be determined by conditions on the ground.