By Chris Lawrence
The United States military could provide logistical and intelligence support in the French effort against Islamist rebels in Mali, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.
The U.S. will "provide whatever assistance it can" as part of what Panetta said was the U.S. global efforts against al Qaeda.
"We have a responsibility to go after Al Qaida wherever they are. And we've gone after them in the FATA. We're going after them in Yemen and Somalia. And we have a responsibility to make sure that Al Qaida does not establish a base for operations in North Africa and Mali," Panetta told reporters traveling with him to Europe.
By Mike Mount
Military operations to stop the growth of al Qaeda's influence in northern and western Africa will only make the violent situation there worse if done prematurely, said the top U.S. military commander overseeing operations in Africa.
The concern shows the challenge of dealing urgently with a growing threat from Northern Mali, which has become a safe haven for al Qadea-linked terrorists, who are gaining momentum across northern Africa. The al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has been linked to the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, according to U.S. officials.
By Larry Shaughnessy
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spelled out the future battle against al Qaeda, praising what has been done so far but warning much more work remains.
Speaking about the September 11 attacks in a speech at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, Panetta said, "We will do everything possible to ensure that such an attack never happens again. That means counterterrorism will continue as a key mission for our military and intelligence professionals as long as violent extremists pose a direct threat to the United States."
He said efforts against the core al Qaeda group have been largely successful. "Al Qaeda's leadership ranks have been decimated. This includes the loss of four of al Qaeda's five top leaders in the last 2½ years alone - Osama bin Laden, Shaikh Saeed al-Masri, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman and Abu Yahya al-Libi."
By Jill Dougherty
Al Qaeda is determined to make the fragile African nation of Mali a safe haven, and the terrorist threat from the network's affiliate in that country, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, "is spreading while we speak," a senior European official said Wednesday.
"We know the hard way that if al Qaeda fighters have a free zone they'll try to attack us all over the place," the official said. "We consider AQIM the growing, and maybe the leading, threat against us."
The official's concerns echoed worries of American national security officials. The al Qaeda affiliate has gotten increased scrutiny after the recent deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. officials have said there are signs extremists responsible for the attack were affiliated with or inspired by AQIM.
The official, who spoke to reporters in Washington, compared Mali to Afghanistan under the Taliban, describing Mali as a "failed state." The official spoke on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.
By Dan Merica
Mali, a country bloodied by a violent March coup, has become a greater focus of U.S. counterterrorism attention, a Department of Defense official said Thursday.
In his opening statements at an Aspen Security Forum panel, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflicts at the Department of Defense, expressed concern about the ungoverned territory of northern Mali - particularly because of a lack of control within Mali's coup-led government.
"Mali is a difficult situation because it starts with the government in Bamako," Sheehan said. "We have to find a way to move forward with the government first and I think we need to start to accelerate that effort."
Mali's junta leader, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, usurped control of the African nation in March. Since then, his soldiers have been accused of looting offices and shops in the capital. The coup wrested control of the nation from former President Amadou Toumani Toure and gained the scorn of the international community - including the United States.
By Larry Shaughnessy
CNN Pentagon Producer
The Arab Spring of revolution has given rise to a new summer of concern in North Africa.
While Moammar Gadhafi is gone, the weapons used by the rebels who overthrew him are now a threat to the whole region, according to Amanda Dory, a top Defense Department policy official on Africa.
"The breakdown of security in Libya has generated a significant flow of militants and weapons and has decreased legitimate cross-border traffic at a time of great economic fragility and turbulence," said Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense on African affairs.
Many of those weapons, the Pentagon fears, are ending up with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) the branch of the terrorist network in North Africa, especially in Mali, which in recent months has seen a coup and a separatist effort.
The al Qaeda affiliate "continues to increase its activities, including collecting large sums of money through kidnapping for ransom schemes," Dory said Monday. The Department of Defense "is closely watching what this will mean for the stability of the region and the ability of AQIM to target partner and U.S. interests."
Beyond Libya and Mali, the Defense Department is also active in the effort to hunt down the Lord's Resistance Army, a group that's been terrorizing central Africa and has for years kidnapped children and turned them into soldiers.
"Regional governments clearly have the lead in the effort to counter" the Lord's Resistance Army, Dory said. "They're the ones who are ultimately responsible for ending the LRA threat and protecting local communities. And the United States is seeking to help them in these responsibilities."
Some 100 U.S. troops, mostly Special Forces, are in Africa working to stop the LRA.
By Tim Lister
Africa has seen some ugly divorces in recent times: Eritrea and Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan. Now Mali is threatened with partition as a rebellion flares in the north and political uncertainty grips the capital, Bamako. Mali’s neighbors and western governments are looking on anxiously as drug traffickers and Islamist groups affiliated with al Qaeda take advantage of the vacuum – in a region already blighted by hunger, poverty and weak government.
The origins of Mali’s collapse are two-fold. In January Tuareg rebels began attacking towns in the vast deserts of northern Mali. Many had recently returned from fighting for Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, bringing guns and vehicles with them. Then, on March 22, there was a coup by mid-ranking officers in Mali’s army angry with corruption and the lack of resources for fighting the rebellion. FULL POST