Panetta: Stealth drone campaign in Iran will 'absolutely' continue

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the stealth drone campaign in Iran would “absolutely” continue, despite Iran's capture of a downed U.S. drone last week.

In an interview with Fox News during the secretary’s trip to the Middle East and Africa, Panetta said the lost drone, which the U.S. has asked Iran to return, would not stop future use of drones along the Afghanistan-Iran border.

Panetta is in the middle of a trip that includes stops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Turkey and Djibouti.

He said in the interview that he disagreed with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is in the U.S. now, about Iran’s influence in Iraq once U.S. troops leave. Al-Maliki has said Iran’s influence will wane once the U.S. departs.

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“I think you’ve got to be very cautious about Iran,” Panetta said. “I suspect that in one way or another they’re going to try to influence what happens there.”

Talking to reporters Tuesday on his way to Kabul, Panetta said he did not expect Iran would return the drone.

“Our request for return of the drone is an appropriate request that they give it back to us,” Panetta said. “I don’t expect that will happen, but I think it’s important to make that request.”

Panetta said it’s difficult to know how much information Iran would be able to obtain from the drone and its parts because the condition of the captured drone isn’t known.