By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2012 – Al-Qaida is establishing a presence in Mali, and the United States is working with regional and international partners to deal with the terrorist organization, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
“I’ve made clear … we have to ensure that al-Qaida has no place to hide and that we have to continue to go after them … wherever they try to develop a command-and-control capability from which they could conduct attacks, either on Europe or on this country,” the secretary said during a news conference with South Korean Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin.
Al-Qaida is trying to establish a safe area in northern Mali. The United States will continue to work with the nations of the region to put pressure on the terror group, just as America has done in other areas. “We’re doing it in Yemen. We’re doing it in Somalia. We’re obviously continuing to do it in the [Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan],” Panetta said. “And I believe the effort now ought to be to work with nations in that region to ensure that al-Qaida does not develop that kind of base in Mali.”
But this cannot be something imposed by nations outside the area, the secretary said. “It ought to be an effort that is developed in conjunction with other countries in the region that share the same concern,” he said.
Discussions about an international response to issues facing Mali continue. For the United States, the State Department is the lead agency. This week, the French Ministry of Defense hosted an international discussion in Paris to evaluate proposals and options for intervention in Mali and the Sahel, DOD officials said.
Mali faces four overlapping problems. First there are questions of the legitimacy of the government following a coup in March. Since the coup, there has been an increase in criminal traffickers or people drugs and contraband. The Tuareg — a nomadic people of the desert — and al-Qaida in the Mahgreb are rising against the government, and there is a Sahel-wide humanitarian crisis stretching from Sudan almost to the Atlantic coast.
The United Nations Security Council is considering a resolution to address Mali’s problems. One part of the resolution would create a western-backed, African-led international force to meet security threats in Mali.
The Economic Community of West African States — which Mali is a member — said it would lead this force.
“I think what we’re prepared to do is to discuss with our regional partners a plan that … would deal with that threat and how to respond to it,” Panetta said.