UPDATE 1-US sharing intel on Mali with France, eyes more support

David Alexander
Reuters Middle East

* U.S. has 'commitment' to keep al Qaeda on run

* Pentagon chief to discuss Azores drawdown decision

* Likely Panetta's last trip abroad as defense secretary

LISBON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The United States is sharing

information with French forces battling al Qaeda-affiliated

militants in Mali and is considering providing logistics,

surveillance and airlift capability as well, U.S. defense

officials said on Monday.

"We have made a commitment that al Qaeda is not going to

find anyplace to hide," U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told

reporters on his plane as he began a week-long tour of European


Just as the United States pursued militants affiliated with

al Qaeda to northern Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, "we have a

responsibility to make sure that al Qaeda does not establish a

base for operations in North Africa in Mali," he said.

France intervened in Mali on Friday in an effort to block an

advance by rebels who the West fear could use the West African

nation as a launching pad for international attacks.

Paris has poured hundreds of troops into the Malian capital

and carried out more air raids on Monday in the vast desert area

seized last year by al Qaeda's north African wing AQIM and

Mali's home-grown MUJWA and Ansar Dine militant groups.

Panetta praised France for the steps it had taken and said

he had been in talks with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le

Drian about what assistance he needed. The Pentagon was looking

at providing help in three areas, he added.

"One is obviously to provide limited logistical support,

two is to provide intelligence support and three to provide some

airlift capability," Panetta told the briefing on his plane.

A senior U.S. defense official said the United States was

already sharing information with the French and would continue

to do so.

Panetta declined to say whether the intelligence support

would be in the form of satellite images or unmanned

reconnaissance aircraft. He indicated the airlift support under

discussion involved cargo planes and a defense official said the

logistic support included tanker aircraft for aerial refueling.

"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.


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.

Karzai and Obama discussed the nature of the U.S. military

presence, if any, in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of

most combat troops at the end of 2014.

They agreed that Afghan forces would take the lead role for

security beginning this spring, in what was described as a

slight acceleration of the mid-2013 transition timetable.

Panetta, the first U.S. defense secretary to visit Portugal

in 30 years, said he would discuss plans to reduce the U.S.

military presence at Lajes Air Field in the Azores.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes