Panetta Calls for ‘Innovative’ Allied Action
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
LONDON, Jan. 19, 2013 The hostage crisis in Algeria has ended, but information on what exactly happened and how many people were killed remain unclear, the U.S. and British defense chiefs told reporters here today.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, right, holds a joint news conference with British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond at Lancaster House in London, Jan. 19, 2013. Panetta is on a six-day trip to Europe to visit with defense counterparts and troops. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
During a news conference at Lancaster House, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said both their governments remain in close contact with Algerian officials, and are working to establish firm details of the assault, kidnappings and murders that took place at a remote natural gas facility in Algeria.
Panetta confirmed Americans were among those held hostage, but he said the possible number of U.S. deaths remains unclear. He pledged continued close consultation with Algerian authorities, and emphasized the attackers bear full and sole responsibility for all loss of life.
"Just as we cannot accept terrorist attacks against our cities, we cannot accept attacks against our citizens and our interests abroad,” he said. "Neither can we accept an al-Qaida safe haven anywhere in the world.”
Since 9/11, Panetta said, “we’ve made very clear that nobody is going to attack the United States of America and get away with it.” The nation and its allies and partners have fought terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and will take the fight to North Africa as well, he said.
Both Panetta and Hammond stated they have no plan to put their nations’ troops on the ground in Mali, where French forces are fighting the advance of terrorist factions. Both nations are assisting French operations, the defense chiefs said, but they agree that the ultimate solution to countering terrorism in Africa is to train and assist forces on that continent to provide their own security.
Terrorists, particularly regional factions of al-Qaida, remain a determined enemy, Panetta said. It’s important that the United States and its allies continue to work with developing militaries in the places where terrorists seek to establish operations, he added.
“What I care about is that [regional forces] do everything they can to ensure al-Qaida does not establish a safe haven. … If we continue to pressure al-Qaida, we can keep them on the run. … [But we] cannot be complacent,” he said.
The secretary arrived here the evening of Jan. 17, and has attended meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron, other senior government officials and members of Parliament.
Panetta told reporters he also met with some British troops who recently returned from Afghanistan. “I expressed my deepest appreciation to them and to their families,” he said.
The secretary expressed his sorrow for the families of Great Britain’s troops killed in Afghanistan. “The American people will forever mourn the more than 400 fallen British heroes of this war,” he said.
Sustaining Afghan forces beyond 2014 is crucial to ensuring those and all deaths in Afghanistan since 9/11 are not in vain, he said, and to ensuring Afghanistan can secure and govern itself into the future.
Panetta praised Britain’s commitment to the coalition mission in Afghanistan, and his meetings with British leaders and defense officials, he said, “reaffirmed the continued strength of the historic relationship between our two nations.”
Those discussions also underscored the numerous security challenges the United States, Great Britain and their partner nations face, the secretary noted.
He listed some of those threats: ongoing operations in Afghanistan, turmoil in the Middle East, a growing terrorist threat in Africa, Iran’s focus on nuclear proliferation, the murder of Syrian citizens by Bashar al Assad’s regime, ceaseless cyberattacks and the shadow of record deficits and growing budget pressures.
His discussions with Hammond addressed those issues and others, the secretary said. He praised Britain’s leaders for their focus on sustaining and improving the NATO alliance, and in planning effective, allied approaches to common threats.
As he has throughout this trip, the secretary also spoke of budget crises facing American and many of its allies, and the resulting increased need for partner nations to cooperate in defense investments and operations. The United States and the United Kingdom, he noted, are pursuing a mutual aircraft carrier initiative that “will bring our navies closer together than ever.”
Panetta repeated a message he has delivered consistently throughout his travels this week: “It is when resources are constrained and security challenges are growing that we need to be creative and innovative in … [developing] alliances.”
The secretary quoted the World War II British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: “This is no time for ease and comfort; this is a time to dare, and to endure.”