Declining to discuss details about a U.S. RQ-170 drone aircraft that went missing in Iran, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta defended the use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to protect the United States.
During a joint news conference here today with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Panetta called the drone program part of an effort “to not only protect Afghanistan, but to protect the United States.”
“These are operations I will not discuss publicly,” the secretary said, “other than to say that, part and parcel of our effort to defend this country and to defend our country involves important intelligence operations which we will continue to pursue.”
Speaking with reporters earlier this week en route to Djibouti, the secretary also called it “appropriate” that President Barack Obama has asked Iran to return the drone, but admitted, “I don’t expect that will happen.”
Panetta said it’s difficult to know how much engineering know-how the Iranians will be able to obtain from parts of the downed drone in its possession.
“I don’t know the condition of those parts. I don’t know exactly what state they are in,” he said. “So it will be a little difficult to tell exactly what they are going to be able to derive from what they have been able to get.”
Panetta also told reporters the United States is developing a strategic relationship with the Afghan government but it has no intention of maintaining permanent bases in Afghanistan.