Examiner.com, by Robert Tilford, AP, YouTube, Dept. of Defense (Washington, DC, Oct. 26, 2012) — During a Pentagon news conference on October 25, 2012 Leon Panetta spoke about the situation in Mali with respect to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa that is strategically situated in Africa with Algeria on the north, Niger on the east, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire on the south, Guinea on the south-west, and Senegal and Mauritania on the west.
It is generally considered an al-Qaeda safe haven (see video: Al-Qaeda’s New Homeland – Mali http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sj6e0fZqG-k&feature=related ).
“With regards to the situation in Mali, as I’ve stated, our approach is to make sure that Al Qaeda and elements of Al Qaeda have no place to hide. And we’ve gone after Al Qaeda wherever they are, whether it’s in the FATA; whether it’s in Yemen; whether it’s in Somalia; and whether they’re in North Africa.”
“Our goal in Mali, because of our concern about AQIM, is that we need to work with the nations in the region. They all agree that we are – we’re facing the same threat there from AQIM. And so, because of that, working with those countries and developing a strategy that develops the kind of intelligence that is needed in order to be able to go after them effectively, develop that kind of intelligence, one. And two, to be able to then develop what kind of operations would be used to then go after them has to be done, I believe, on a regional basis”, Panetta explained.
“And so our goal right now is to try to do everything we can to bring those countries together in a common effort to go after AQIM”, Panetta said (source: Pentagon transcript DOD News Briefing with Secretary Panetta and Gen. Dempsey from the Pentagon).
Officials are discussing plans for an African-led military offensive against al-Qaida-linked militants in northern Mali. U.S. Gen. Carter Ham, head of U.S. Africa Command, has said the U.S. 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 members of a U.S. military team in Mali as part of the normal embassy staff and security.
Officials have linked al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb to the attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. AQIM’s leaders are known to be largely in northern Mali, operating out of safe havens there.