US mulls moving into N Africa to go after al-Qaeda: Panetta

The US was anticipating that it might have to move into North Africa to go after al-Qaeda in the region as the Obama administration wants to make sure the global terror network has no place to hide, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said today.

"We've gone after core leadership of al-Qaeda in the Fatah in Afghanistan. We've gone after them in Yemen. We've gone after them successfully in Somali. We were always aware there was AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in North Africa," Panetta told CNN.

"Now we're focused on AQIM as a result, obviously of the French action. But we were also anticipating that we would have to move into North Africa to go after al-Qaeda," he said in response to a question.

"Wherever they are, we have to make sure they have no place to hide. Bottom line here is al Qaeda is our enemy and we have to make sure we go after them," Panetta asserted.

Responding to a question, the outgoing Defence Secretary said the US has to be prepared to respond to any contingency.

"I wouldn't rule out any action the President of the US might decide needs to be taken against any crisis. I just would not rule out any option in today's world," he said.

"We face a lot of threats today. I feel as secretary of defence I've been honoured to serve at the Department of Defence. We have the strongest military power on Earth, and we're dealing with a lot of threats in today's world.

The biggest concern I have quite frankly right now is the budget uncertainty on Capitol Hill, because if the sequester is allowed to go into effect, I think it could seriously impact on the readiness of the US and that's a serious issue," Panetta said.

AQIM fighters had took control of major cities in Mali before being driven back by French forces over the past week.

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