US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
said overnight Wednesday that the stealth drone campaign along the Iran-Afghanistan
border will "absolutely" continue despite the loss of a valuable and sophisticated drone
Speaking to Fox News, Panetta refused to comment directly on what the RQ-170 Sentinel drone was doing over Iran, but he said the US military has no plans to suspend the drone operation out of western Afghanistan.
"Those operations have to be protected in order to do the job and the mission that they're involved with," he said.
When asked by Fox News if the US would continue those missions as they have been conducted out of Afghanistan, he responded with one word: "Absolutely."
Panetta with US troops in Afghanistan (Photo: AP)
During the interview Panetta would not speculate about whether the Sentinel drone had been downed by a cyber attack or a high-tech jamming device.
"You can make all kinds of guesses at this point. Obviously there's nothing that you can rule out and nothing that you can rule in right now," he told the news network.
Addressing the pullout of American troops from Iraq, Panetta did not agree with the assessment of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suggesting Iranian interference in Iraq would disappear once all American troops have gone home.
"I think you've got be very cautious about Iran and what they are doing," the defense secretary told Fox News. "I suspect in one way or another they are going to try to influence what happens there."
According to Panetta, the US will keep 40,000 troops in bases across the Gulf to counter any potential Iranian threat.
On Tuesday Iran scoffed
at President Barack Obama’s request for it to return the captured drone.
"It seems he (Obama) has forgotten that Iran’s airspace was violated, spying operations were undertaken, international laws were violated and that Iran’s internal affairs were interfered with,’ Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in his regular media briefing, according to Fars news agency.
AFP contributed to the report