Cannot let al Qaeda hide in north Africa: Panetta
Washington: Senior US defence leaders are working with allies on a plan to deal with al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali and elsewhere in the north Africa region, with American assistance likely to centre on intelligence and logistical support and not troops on the ground.
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday that the US must work with nations in the region to insure that al Qaeda has no place to hide and expand its capabilities.
Panetta provided no details on what the US would be willing to do, and officials say no final decisions have been made.
But senior Defence Department leaders have been in France for the recent meetings on the matter, including Assistant Defence Secretary Michael Sheehan and Deputy Assistant Secretary Amanda Dory.
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson was also at the Paris talks, which began on Monday.
Officials are discussing plans for an African-led military offensive against al Qaeda-linked militants in northern Mali.
US General Carter Ham, the head of US Africa Command, has said the US would not put boots on the ground there, but would be able to provide other assistance, including intelligence gathering and other support.
There are only about a dozen US military in Mali as part of the normal embassy staff and security.
Officials have linked al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to the attack at the US Consulate in Benghazi. AQIM`s leaders are known to be largely in northern Mali, operating out of safe havens there.
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