Leon Panetta Says Not U.S. Ground Troops Will Set Foot In Mali

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Secretary of Defense for the United States, Leon Panetta, said that he would not be putting American lives in any danger when it comes to the ongoing conflict in Mali.

Panetta went on to say that ground troops were out of the question during a press conference alongside Jose Aguiar Branco, the Portuguese Defense Minister. However, Panetta made it clear that he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of U.S. aircraft providing logistical and airlift support. Both men did go on to say that they are extremely confident that the French will succeed in securing better defense over the region. The United States is already helping the French with gathering intel on a number of Islamist extremists that are known to be hiding within the borders of Mali.

Panetta was invited to Branco’s residence which is a medieval fort that meets the mouth of Portugal’s Tagus River. During a private conversation, the two sat down and talked about how the United States would reduce manpower at Lajes military base, which is located in the Azores. Those cutbacks are expected to send 900 Americans packing, with 400 being soldiers and the others being family members. The move is expected to happen sometime in 2014 and it will save the American government $350 million. The only problem that Branco had with the move is that the economic impact would have serious implications on the area.

Details are still sketchy on how much help the United States will actually provide but the meeting came just hours after the French spent all night bombing a Malian town that was believed to be taken over by Islamist extremists. At the same time, there was a large convoy of about 45 armed trucks that were headed into Mali coming from the Ivory Coast that carried French troops. The purpose of this movement could be a critical land assault as the French try to move closer to Bamako, Mali’s capital.

Even though al-Qaida located in Somalia and Yemen has been severely weakened, Mali is by no means an easy job. Panetta calls the operation important but also sees no reason why America needs to put its soldier’s lives in danger.

During the meeting, Panetta promised Branco that the U.S. will do whatever it takes to ensure that al-Qaida and its allies are stopped before reaching the borders of Portugal. He also said that the ECWAS (Economic Community of W. African States), which is comprised of a total of 15 nations, should be deploying troops to Mali in the near future.

Francois Hollande, the President of France, was responsible for authorizing the assault as he believed the rebels might be able to break through Mali’s defenses in the city of Mopti. This would be a major victory for the French and the rebels being that it is in the middle of Mali and it’s the first of many towns controlled by the government. The French were surprised that the rebels broke through as easily and contribute this to a stolen cache of weapons previously owned by former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. If you are unaware, Gadhafi was killed by rebels in late 2011 in an uprising.

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