Panetta says Djibouti critical to US terror fight, plans to visit Libya
By Associated Press, Updated: Tuesday, December 13, 8:47 AM
CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday
that U.S. operations against al-Qaida are now concentrating on key groups in
Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.
Panetta said efforts against the al-Qaida affiliates depend on American
partnerships with countries like Djibouti. The military base in this tiny
port nation in the Horn of Africa is the launch point for U.S. drones used
for intelligence, surveillance and, at times, strikes against insurgents in
Panetta told troops stationed at the base that he will visit Libya, becoming
the first Pentagon chief to travel to the embattled country, which is
emerging from an eight-month civil war.
He said he will also travel to Iraq in the coming days for a ceremony that
will shut down the U.S. military mission there after nearly nine years at
As the U.S. winds down operations in Iraq and begins its methodical
withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. military has increasingly focused on
Africa - particularly the north, where insurgents have found sanctuary.
"It's fair to say that the United States is intent on going after al-Qaida
wherever they locate, and making sure they have no place to hide," said
Panetta, who is making his first trip to Djibouti.
A key U.S. ally in this region, Djibouti has the only U.S. base in
sub-Saharan Africa. It hosts the military's Combined Joint Task Force-Horn
U.S. officials have acknowledged that as the threat from core al-Qaida
leaders in Pakistan declines - largely due to U.S. strikes that have killed
insurgents or kept them on the run - affiliated groups in Africa and Yemen
have taken on more active and dangerous roles.
The worry is that militant groups - including al-Shabab in Somalia and
al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen - operate out of safe havens in
"Our goal is to make sure that wherever they go, we go after them and make
sure that they are not able to ever develop the kind of planning that would
involve attacks on our homeland," Panetta told reporters traveling with him.
Militants based in Somalia and Yemen have been at the heart of a number of
deadly terror attacks in the region, and several near-misses in the U.S.
The Somalia-based al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida, unleashed twin
bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 76 in 2010. The group is
particularly worrisome because it has recruited dozens of Somali-Americans,
particularly young men, to travel to Somalia and take up the fight.
On Christmas Day 2009, a Nigerian man tried to blow up an airliner over
Detroit during a flight that originated from Lagos, Nigeria.
U.S. and European officials also worry that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb
- which operates in the west and north of Africa - is working to establish
links with al-Shabab and the Nigerian group Boko Haram.
Panetta met with Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh as well as some of
the roughly 3,000 U.S. troops that are based here, conducting
counterterrorism, counter-piracy and humanitarian missions.
U.S. defense officials said Djibouti is planning to deploy some troops to
the Somalia mission, joining forces from Uganda and Burundi who are working
to push al-Shabab back, particularly from key areas around the capital
Panetta's plan to visit Libya comes amid ongoing violence there, including
recent clashes between revolutionary fighters and national army troops near
Panetta said Libya reflects the ongoing changes in the region after the Arab
Spring, and said the U.S. wants to help Libyans move in the right direction
as the people take back their country. With military assistance from the
U.S. and NATO, Libyans ousted and later killed longtime leader Moammar
Gadhafi earlier this year.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may
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Received on Tue Dec 13 2011 - 07:11:38 EST