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US to chase al-Qaeda in any nook and corner: Panetta

Washington, Jan 15 (PTI) 14:24 IST

American troops are determined to go to any nook and corner of the earth to destroy al-Qaeda, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said, asserting that Washington was considering providing logistic, surveillance and airlift assistance to French battling militants in Mali.

Claiming that the beleaguered outfit had expanded its base from Af-Pak region to other parts of the world, in particular North Africa, Panetta said it continues to pose a security threat to the US.

"We continue to confront terrorism as a threat, al-Qaeda as a threat to our security. Whether it's in Pakistan or Somalia or Yemen or Mali, we are confronting some common threats with regards to terrorism," Panetta told reporters travelling with his on a four-nation European trip.

During the week-long European trip, Panetta would travel to Portugal, Spain, Britain and Italy.

"We have a responsibility to go after Al-Qaeda wherever they are. And we've gone after them in the FATA (in Pakistan). We're going after them in Yemen and Somalia. And we have a responsibility to make sure that al-Qaeda does not establish a base for operations in North Africa and Mali," he said.

"We've been very concerned about AQIM and their efforts to establish a very strong base in that area. We have been working with our regional partners to try to develop plans to confront that threat. I commend France for taking the steps that it has.

What we have promised them is that we will work with them to cooperate with them and to provide whatever assistance we can to try to help them in that effort," he said.

"We are engaged in those discussions. AFRICOM is discussing this with France, and we'll continue to work with them to ensure that ultimately we do stop AQIM and that the responsibility for assuring security in that region will be passed to the African nations to provide a more permanent security for the sake of the world," Panetta said.

He said as France carries out its operation in Mali, it would assist the French in the intelligence and other arena.

"With regards to AQIM, we're concerned that any time al- Qaeda establishes a base of operations that - while they might not have any immediate plans for attacks in the US and in Europe, that 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," he said.

"Going back to my last job as director of the CIA - we were always very concerned about AQIM, as well as al-Qaeda in these other areas, as I mentioned, Somalia and Yemen. And our concern was that I wasn't enough simply to go after the leadership of al-Qaeda in the FATA, that it was important that we try to go after al-Qaeda wherever they tried to establish a base of operations, and for that reason, I think we have always been concerned about al-Qaeda not only in these other nations that I talked about, but in North Africa, as well," he said.

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