Panetta defends Gen. Allen, says he has ‘confidence’ in Afghanistan commander

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday cautioned against jumping to conclusions as his department investigates Gen. John Allen over alleged “potentially inappropriate” communications. 

“No one should leap to any conclusions here,” said Panetta to reporters in Perth, Australia, where he and Secretary of State Clinton are meeting with Australian officials, according to reports. 

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Panetta said he supported Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. “General Allen is doing an excellent job at ISAF in leading those forces. He certainly has my continued confidence to lead our forces and to continue the fight,” he said.

Panetta, though, added that it was “prudent” to put Allen’s nomination to become NATO Supreme Allied Commander-Europe and head of U.S. European Command on hold until the investigation was completed.

On Tuesday, the FBI said they had handed over 20,000 to 30,000 pages of emailed correspondence between Allen and Jill Kelley, a Tampa, Fla., woman and friend of former CIA Director David Petraeus.

Kelley’s complaints about harassing emails sparked the FBI probe which discovered Petraeus’s extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell and led him to resigned his post as the nation’s top spy on Friday.

Panetta on Tuesday ordered an investigation by the Defense Department Inspector General and said Allen would remain U.S. commander in Afghanistan while the probe proceeds. 

A senior defense official said Tuesday that Allen has denied any wrongdoing. 

The Defense secretary sidestepped questions about the nature of the emails, saying only that the matter was being investigated by his department.

“After receiving information from the FzB.I. on Sunday regarding the emails, I felt it was important in my responsibility as secretary of defense to refer the matter on General Allen to the department’s inspector general so that the inspector general could determine the facts here,” said Panetta, according to reports.

Secretary of State Clinton, who joined Panetta at the news conference, said she did not believe that the investigation into Allen would distract from U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and that American officials had discussed the matter with allied counterparts. 

“There has been a lot of conversation, as you might expect, but no concern whatsoever being expressed to us because the mission has been set forth and it's being carried out,” said Clinton.