US sharing intelligence on Mali with France, eyes more support
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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," US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters on his plane as he began a week-long tour of European capitals.
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.