LONDON — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the United States will continue to work with Algeria and other African countries to fight terrorists. The secretary spoke in London after Algerian troops had launched a second attack against gunmen holding hostages at a natural gas facility, resulting in additional deaths.
Information from Algeria was sketchy when Secretary Panetta and his British counterpart Phillip Hammond spoke to reporters Saturday afternoon. But Panetta said the best way to fight al-Qaida groups like the one in Algeria is to help local governments maintain control of their territory and deal with terrorist attacks when they happen.
“I think it's important that as we face this enemy we have to adapt the best efforts to be able to ensure that we do this effectively, and that involves working with these countries in the region to work with us, to develop the capability of identifying where they're located and the ability to conduct operations against al-Qaida,” he said.
Anti-terrorist forces can keep al-Qaida on the run, Panetta said, but no one should be complacent about the effort. He said the United States will not tolerate attacks on its territory, citizens or interests.
“Since 9-11, we've made very clear that nobody is going to attack the United States of America and get away with it.”
Panetta repeated that the United States will go after al-Qaida wherever it tries to hide.
Secretary Hammond appeared to acknowledge that western countries were not entirely pleased with the Algerian decision to attack the compound where the hostages were held, a move that resulted in several hostage deaths. But he praised Algeria's commitment to fight terrorism.
“The nature of collaboration in confronting a global threat is that we work with people sometimes who do things somewhat differently, slightly differently, from the way we would do them ourselves,” Hammond said.
The two men also spoke about the situation in Mali. Secretary Panetta disputed a reporter's suggestion that the United States is not providing much concrete assistance to French forces that moved into the country a week ago to fight another al-Qaida affiliate.
“We are, in fact, providing assistance to the French," he said. "We provided intelligence information to them to assist them in that situation. We are providing an airlift to try to assist them to be able to project more of their force into the area.”
And Panetta said there are talks about further assistance, as well as more involvement by West African forces. But he and Secretary Hammond said there is no plan to deploy American or British combat forces to the region.