Panetta: Syria no-fly zone not on front burner

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“Gen. Kayani did indicate that they had developed plans to go into Waziristan,” Panetta said. “Our understanding is that hopefully they’re going to take that step in the near future. I can’t tell you when. But the indication that we have is that they are prepared to conduct that operation soon.”

Pakistan has denied this, saying its forces are stretched too thin fighting Pakistani Taliban militants at war with the state. It also has criticized NATO and Afghan forces for not doing enough to stop Pakistani militants holed up in Afghanistan from launching attacks across the border into Pakistan.

Touching on another major U.S. frustration in Afghanistan, Panetta said the accelerating pattern of attacks on American and coalition troops by Afghan army and police members is a sign that the Taliban is grasping for success. But he added that U.S. military commanders say such attacks still remain “sporadic” and not a long-term trend.

He argued that the Afghan insider attacks, in which numerous Afghan troops have turned their guns on coalition forces, may reflect efforts by the Taliban to use unconventional tactics against a coalition force that it cannot defeat on the battlefield.

In other comments, Panetta said the U.S. is providing additional military assistance to peacekeeping forces in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in order to strengthen security in the region. But he said that so far the Pentagon has not moved to send additional U.S. troops to the Sinai. A truck-mounted tracking system sent to the Sinai will allow troops to follow friendly forces.

“We just want to make sure that we know how those forces are deployed in order to ensure that we can more effectively go after those terrorists that would try to create an incident or terrorist act,” Panetta said.

Currently the U.S. has about 800 troops in the Sinai as part of an international peacekeeping force. Panetta did not rule out sending more U.S. forces to the Sinai, but said America is working closely with Egyptian leaders “to determine what additional help they may need in order to ensure that that area is secured.”

Just over a week ago, masked militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers at a checkpoint along the border with Gaza and Israel, then burst through a security fence into Israel. Israel detected the infiltration and launched an airstrike to stop the assault.

Associated Press national security editor Wendy Benjaminson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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