By Luis Ramirez
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is cautioning against early conclusions in the case of U.S. commander in Afghanistan General John Allen, who is under investigation for allegedly having inappropriate communication with a woman linked to the David Petraeus sex scandal.
Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to the Australian coastal city of Perth to boost a longstanding alliance. The two reached new agreements with Australian officials on space cooperation and held discussions on the rotation of hundreds of U.S. Marines to Australia.
Much of the focus at a joint news conference Wednesday, though, was on the case of General John Allen, who is under investigation for possibly inappropriate communication with Jill Kelley, a woman linked to the sex scandal involving former CIA director David Petraeus.
Addressing the issue
Responding to a reporters’ question, Panetta made his first remarks about the case since announcing the investigation of the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
“No one should leap to any conclusions here. General Allen is doing an excellent job at ISAF in leading those forces,” said Panetta. “He certainly has my continued confidence to lead our forces and to continue the fight. But his nomination has been put on hold as a prudent measure until we determine what the facts are.”
Clinton declined to comment on the case, but she commended Allen’s record. She said there has been conversation about the allegations, but suggested the case has not affected the allied forces’ mission in Afghanistan.
U.S. giving Syria more humanitarian aid
Clinton announced the United States is providing $30 million in additional humanitarian aid to Syrians affected by the fighting there, bringing the total to $200 million. She praised the recent formation of a new Syrian opposition coalition against the government of Bashar al-Assad, saying the Obama administration has long called for this kind of organization.
“We will be prepared to work with them to deliver assistance to the Syrian people,” said Clinton. “So, [it is a] good beginning, highly welcomed by us and others, and we want to see the steps taken that have been promised. And we stand ready to assist this new opposition in standing itself up and representing the Syrian people to the regime and the international community.”
Clinton stopped short of recognizing the coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people, as France did earlier this week.
U.S., Australia bolster alliance
U.S. and Australian officials reached an agreement Wednesday to place a radar in Australia to track space debris, and said talks are under way for an advanced U.S. space surveillance telescope on Australian territory.
They also discussed the recent rotation of U.S. Air Force personnel and 250 U.S. Marines to northern Australia and said the exercise will be repeated next year. The United States hopes to eventually increase the Marines’ rotation to 2,500 troops.
The moves are part of the United States’ new defense strategy, which calls for a rebalance of forces to the Asia-Pacific region.
Both Clinton and Panetta head to southeast Asia next and will attend a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia. President Obama is scheduled to be in the region next week.