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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday he now sees the murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya earlier this month as a "terrorist attack" and not the result of a spontaneous demonstration that turned violent.
"It was a terrorist attack," Panetta said.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said "there was a thread of intelligence" on possible actions by terrorist groups in response to the U.S.-produced video mocking Islam" before U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
"But it wasn't anything specific and not a threat to the consulate that I'm aware of," Dempsey said.
Dempsey and Panetta did not elaborate to say what terrorist group they thought were responsible, only to say investigators were still working on the case.
When asked why it took so long to come to this conclusion, Panetta explained that he needed to review all of the evidence and evaluate how the attack was executed.
Panetta and Dempsey spoke Thursday at a Pentagon briefing at which they also discussed partnering with the Afghan military, ongoing problems with the F35 Joint Strike Fighter procurement, and the threat of devastating defense cuts under sequestration.
U.S. troops have resumed contacts and patrols with the Afghan National Army on the small-unit level despite fears that more will be killed by the "partners" they have mentored, Dempsey and Panetta said.
A recent spike in insider, or green-on-blue attacks, led Marine Gen. John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, to issue an order last week breaking off all partnering below the battalion level unless approved by a two-star general.
But Panetta said that as of Thursday, "most ISAF units have returned to their partnered operations at all levels."
At least 51 U.S. and allied troops have been killed in insider attacks this year, and a total of more than 110 since 2007, but the Afghans have been taking steps to vet the ranks of their army and police for possible Taliban infiltrators, said Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Afghan leaders now conclude that "insider attacks are an affront on their honor" and an effort by the Taliban "to try to split us apart," Dempsey said. "The Afghans are taking this as seriously as we are," Dempsey said.
F-35 Lockheed Martin Relationship
Panetta backed away from the assessment of Air Force Maj. Chris Bogdan, the incoming F-35 acquisition chief, that the relationship between the Defense Department and Lockheed Martin on the F-35 program was the "worst he's ever seen."
"I don't know that I would portray it in those terms," Panetta said. "I'm not convinced we've reached the point where it's deadened," said Panetta, who added that he's convinced "we'll get through this."
Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter stood behind Bogdan's comments Sept. 19 saying he backed Bogdan's push to improve the relationship between the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin "100 percent."
Panetta was less confident that Congress would reach an agreement in a lameduck session after the November elections to deal with the threat of sequestration, which would force at least $500 billion in defense spending cuts over the next decade.
"I'll take whatever the hell deal they can make right now," Panetta said.
The members of the Senate and the House "have to give me more stability with regard to the defense of this country," Panetta said.