Panetta Says Protests in Middle East ‘Leveling Off’
(Corrects to add State Department role in fourth paragraph of story originally published Sept. 15.)
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the level of violence has declined the past few days in protests in the Islamic world sparked by an anti-Muslim video.
“Today, there continue to be some demonstrations but it would appear there’s some leveling off on the violence that we thought might take place,” Panetta told reporters aboard a U.S. military plane on his way to Asia. “Having said that, we have to continue to be very vigilant because these demonstrations are likely to continue over the next few days, if not longer.”
U.S. military forces deployed in the Middle East are “prepared to respond to any request we receive to be able to protect our personnel and American property” if they’re threatened by demonstrators, Panetta said.
The U.S. State Department must make a request, which must be approved by a host nation’s government, before American troops can be deployed to any country to protect diplomatic missions, Panetta said. Sudan has decided that its own forces can provide security to U.S. personnel and property without inviting U.S. military personnel, he said.
Last week, demonstrations outside a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, turned violent and a group of attackers armed with rocket-launchers and guns entered the compound and set fire to buildings, killing U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other U.S. State Department employees.
Investigations are still under way to determine who or which groups carried out the attack in Libya, Panetta said, adding that the government of Libya is assisting in the effort.
Terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda continue to threaten U.S. interests in Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and elsewhere, Panetta said.
“They continue to try to inspire violence and undermine stability, and continue to represent a threat to the U.S., so for that reason we’ve to continue to go after them,” he said.
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