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Iran escalating efforts to destabilize region -Panetta

WASHINGTON, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta accused Iran of an intensified campaign to destabilize the Middle East by smuggling anti-aircraft weapons to militant allies, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. "There is no question when you start passing MANPADS around, that becomes a threat, not just to military aircraft but to civilian aircraft," Panetta told the newspaper in an interview. "That is an escalation."

French forces moved 'faster' than expected in Mali: US

French forces have rolled back Islamist militants in Mali "much faster" than the United States expected but now face the daunting task of building long-term security in the region, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday. "They have made tremendous progress, I give them a lot of credit," Panetta told AFP in an interview at the Pentagon. "They have moved much faster than we had anticipated. They now control Timbuktu and Gao and have moved into the north to capture some of the cities in the far north as well. That's very good progress," Panetta said.

Panetta calls 'Zero Dark Thirty' a 'good movie'

The man who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, ex-CIA director Leon Panetta, vouched Friday for "Zero Dark Thirty," calling it a "good movie" even though the tale of the biggest manhunt in history had to be simplified for the big screen. "It's a movie," Panetta said, laughing. "And it's a good movie. But I lived the real story," he told AFP in an interview.

French forces moved 'faster' than expected in Mali: US

French forces rolled back Islamist militants in Mali "much faster" than the United States expected but now face the daunting task of building long-term security in the region, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday. "They have made tremendous progress, I give them a lot of credit," Panetta told AFP in an interview at the Pentagon. "They have moved much faster than we had anticipated. They now control Timbuktu and Gao and have moved into the north to capture some of the cities in the far north as well. "That's very good progress," Panetta said.

Hezbollah could get arms from Syrian 'chaos': Panetta

The United States is increasingly concerned that "chaos" in Syria could allow Hezbollah to obtain sophisticated weapons from the Damascus regime, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told AFP in an interview. Speaking two days after Israel carried out a bombing raid on a military site outside Damascus, Panetta said Washington was worried the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah could exploit the 22-month conflict in Syria.

Afghan bombing helped shape Panetta's views on women in war

* Pentagon lifts ban on women in front-line combat roles * Obama encouraged Panetta but stayed out of deliberations * Panetta to retire after 18 months as defense secretary By Phil Stewart WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Three years before he lifted the U.S. military's ban on females in front-line combat, Leon Panetta grew acutely aware that women in senior positions were already risking - and losing - their lives when a would-be informant blew himself up at a CIA base in Afghanistan.

Panetta calls for more agile NATO with wider strategic focus

* Defense budgets becoming tighter but threats remain * NATO must be more flexible in order to respond quickly * Pentagon chief urges alliance to join U.S. strategic shift By David Alexander LONDON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called on Friday for NATO to reinvent itself as a more agile alliance with a broader outlook embracing the Asia-Pacific and able to respond to new threats from Islamic militancy.

U.S. troops in Italy quiz Panetta about looming budget cuts

* Pentagon facing 'perfect storm' of fiscal problems- Panetta * Department will pay a 'hell of a price' if cuts go into effect By David Alexander VICENZA, Italy, Jan 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that Congress should "suck it up" and show the leadership needed to fix the fiscal crisis that has thrown Pentagon budgeting into confusion and threatened national security.

U.S. studying legal basis for assisting France in Mali- Panetta

* Washington takes Mali action 'very seriously' * Panetta says action should be seen as 'international effort' * U.S. still evaluating what assistance to give France By David Alexander ROME, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The United States takes the French fight with al Qaeda-affiliated militants in Mali "very seriously" but must evaluate French military needs and the legal basis for U.S. action before providing aid, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Wednesday.
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