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Panetta defends probe

PERTH — US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta warned today against jumping to conclusions over the actions of the top US commander in Afghanistan, a day after placing him under investigation in a widening scandal that already cost CIA Director David Petraeus his job.

Marine General John Allen, who denies any wrongdoing, is being investigated for potentially inappropriate communications with a woman at the centre of the Petraeus case, Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite.

Panetta defended his decision to refer the case to the Pentagon’s inspector general and for suspending Allen’s nomination to another top position in the US military, saying it was a prudent step “until we determine what the facts are”.

“And we will,” Panetta told reporters at high-level talks in Australia, also attended by the top US military officer, General Martin Dempsey, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

‘Don’t leap to conclusions’

“No one should leap to any conclusions here. General Allen is doing an excellent job at ISAF, in leading those forces,” Panetta said, referring to the NATO-led force.

“He certainly has my continued confidence to lead our forces and continue the fight.”

Clinton acknowledged that allies had raised questions about the Allen case but said there was “no concern whatsoever being expressed to us” about the mission in Afghanistan.

Defence officials and people close to Petraeus say neither he nor Allen had a romantic relationship with Kelley, a 37-year-old wife and mother, who is described as a prominent presence in military circles in Tampa.

She may have been seen as a rival by Petraeus’ biographer, Paula Broadwell, who sent Kelley a series of anonymous, harassing emails which touched off an investigation that uncovered evidence of an affair between Petraeus and Broadwell. (Reuters)

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