PERTH, Australia – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta cautioned Wednesday against reaching early conclusions about the veracity of allegations against the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, who is under investigation for what Pentagon officials have said may be “inappropriate” correspondence with a Florida woman linked to the David Petraeus sex scandal.
At a news conference in Australia's Indian Ocean coastal city of Perth, Panetta said no one should “leap to any conclusions here.” He also said he is fully confident in Allen's ability to continue to lead in Afghanistan.
They were Panetta's first public remarks about the matter since it was disclosed Tuesday.
The Pentagon chief declined to explain the nature of Allen's correspondence with Jill Kelley, the Florida socialite connected to the scandal that led to Petraeus' resignation last week as director of the CIA.
Panetta announced Tuesday while flying to Australia that he had ordered the Defense Department's inspector general to investigate Allen based on material referred to the Pentagon on Sunday by the FBI. Pentagon officials said the material included at least 20,000 pages of Allen correspondence.
Panetta had also announced Tuesday that the Obama administration put on hold Allen's nomination to be the next commander of U.S. European Command and the top NATO general. Allen's Senate confirmation hearing was to have been held Thursday.
Panetta said in Perth that putting a hold on the nomination was the “prudent” thing to do.
Allen, who was in Washington when Panetta announced the investigation and has not yet returned to his headquarters in Kabul, has not publicly commented on the matter.