Defence Secretary Leon Panetta cautioned on Wednesday against reaching early conclusions about the veracity of allegations against the top US commander in Afghanistan, General 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 Perth, Mr. Panetta said no one should “leap to any conclusions here.” He also said he is fully confident in Mr. Allen’s ability to continue to lead in Afghanistan.

They were Mr. Panetta’s first public remarks about the matter since it was disclosed on Tuesday.

The Pentagon chief declined to explain the nature of Mr. 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.

Mr. Panetta announced on Tuesday while flying to Australia that he had ordered the Defence Department’s inspector-general to investigate Mr. 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.

Mr. Panetta had also announced on Tuesday that the Obama administration put on hold Mr. Allen’s nomination to be the next commander of US European Command and the top NATO general.

Mr. Panetta said in Perth that putting a hold on the nomination was the “prudent” thing to do.

Obama backs Allen

“The President thinks very highly of General Allen and his service to his country, as well as the job he has done in Afghanistan,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. ”... He has faith in General Allen, believes he’s doing and has done an excellent job at ISAF.”

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