Panetta: U.S. to Take 'All Necessary Steps' to Protect Citizens

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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Saturday the United States would "take all necessary steps to protect our people" from the threat of al-Qaida-affiliated militants in Africa.

Discussing the Algerian hostage crisis in a BBC interview, Panetta commended France's military operation against Islamists in Mali and said Washington would assist other countries in trying to stop them making a base in the region.

"Whether or not that involves assisting others with military operations, whether it involves developing in a cooperative way operations there, those are areas that I think remain to be decided," he said during a visit to London.

Panetta was discussing the Algerian crisis, in which at least one U.S. citizen has been confirmed dead, and the wider threat presented by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, an affiliate of the global terror network in North Africa.

"We are obviously concerned about AQIM, this al-Qaida affiliate, which is located in that part of Africa. We have been working with other countries to try to determine how best to deal with that threat," he said.

"We'll continue to work with the countries in that region and we'll continue to try to assist France for the efforts that they conducted.

"We commend France for taking the step to try to block AQIM and we'll try to assist them as do other countries in that effort."

He continued: "Our goal is to make sure that wherever al-Qaida tries to hide that we prevent them from establishing a base and that we prevent them from conducting the kind of terrorist acts that are involved."

"We will take all necessary steps to protect our people," he said.

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