“We are engaged in those discussions. Africom (U.S. Africa Command) is discussing this with France and will continue to work with them to ensure that ultimately we do stop AQIM,” said Panetta, who received a briefing from the head of Africom, General Carter Ham, during his flight to Lisbon.
THREAT TO U.S., EUROPE
Panetta said the aim of the intervention was to disrupt rebel advances in Mali and to give time for the ECOWAS grouping of African nations to respond on the ground.
“The responsibility for assuring security in that region will be passed to African nations to provide a more permanent security for the sake of the world,” he said.
“While they might not have any immediate plans for attacks in the United States and Europe ... ultimately that still remains their objective and it’s for that reason that we have to take steps now to ensure that AQIM does not get that kind of traction,” Panetta said.
His comments came at the outset of a trip that is likely to be his last as U.S. defense secretary and will take him to Lisbon, Madrid, Rome and London.
Describing himself as a “son of Europe,” the Italian-American defense secretary said it was appropriate to finish his time in office with a visit to NATO partners, adding that he wanted to underscore the importance of the alliance to a new generation of Europeans.
Panetta said he would brief his counterparts on talks last week between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama.