UNITED KINGDOM SECRETARY OF STATE PHILIP HAMMOND: Good afternoon. Thank you for coming along on a cold and snowy Saturday afternoon. I'm delighted to welcome Secretary Panetta to address the Lancaster House on the final leg of his visit to Europe. We are delighted that he's chosen to end this tour with a visit to London, and indeed, without getting too emotional, probably and his final foreign trip as secretary of defense for the visit to London. Highly appropriate in view of the deep and abiding friendship between our two countries.
As ever, we've had an open discussion of range of important security issues this afternoon, including, of course, the current hostage situation in Algeria, assistance to the Malian government to help them abort the advance of Islamists in Mali, the draw down by set forces in Afghanistan, and of course the ongoing situation in Syria.
On the terrorist attack in Algeria we remain in close contact with the Algerian government. The Cobra committee met again this morning on the latest information we have is that the hostage situation has now been brought to an end by further assault by Algerian forces which had resulted in further loss of life. We're pressing the Algerians for info on the exact situation and the numbers that have been killed, and if any numbers rescued.
The loss of life as a result of these attacks is appalling, not acceptable, and we must be clear that it is the terrorists that bear sole responsibility for it. Their actions can never be justified, and we remain determined to defeat terrorism and to stand with the Algerian government.
On the situation in Mali, we remain deeply concerned by the security situation there and the threat posed by the terrorist groups in the north of the country. We remain committed to working with the Malian government and international partners to prevent a new terrorist haven developing on Europe's doorstep. That is why we welcome the French military intervention and why we are supporting their efforts with logistical and intelligence assets.
On Afghanistan, we've had a good discussion about the improving ability of the Afghan security forces to provide security for their own people. We in the U.K. remain in lockstep with our American and ISAF allies on draw down of forces as the Afghans take on lead responsibility for security across the country. And we remain on track to end our combat operations by the end of 2014.
Finally, on a personal note, I would like to thank Secretary Panetta for the warm, frank and open relationship that we have enjoyed since I was appointed U.K. defense secretary in 2011. Secretary Panetta has served his country with huge distinction in a career of public service spanning nearly 50 years, including a variety of the highest offices in the United States. On Friday, Leon, in your lecture at King's College, you made clear the need to continue making the case for Atlanticism, even as we, and many of the European allies face budget challenges as you do back at home and even as we face the challenge of the rise of Asia.
The point you have made consistently, many times before, urging European native partners is to stay the course in spite of the difficulties ahead. And I can promise you as you retire to a well-deserved rest in California that I will continue to make your argument in European native context.
It's been a great pleasure to work with you and your team, and I wish you all the very best for your return to California and for your continuing work in teaching the next generation of Americans the importance of public service through the Panetta Institute for Public Policy.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA: Thanks, I appreciate it. Thank you very much, Philip, for those kind remarks, and good afternoon.
It is a pleasure to have been here in London over these last few days. Having taken my first trip here as Director of the CIA, almost four years ago, I guess it's appropriate to have the final trip through London as I conclude my service as secretary of defense. I know that Secretary Hammond has just returned this morning from Australia, so I appreciate his willingness to schedule this weekend session and the gracious hospitality that he has shown me here at this remarkable Lancaster House. He is a true partner. He is a true friend. He is someone that I have worked very closely with.
Since the time he assumed his responsibilities and I think it's fair to say we have always had a relationship of trust and one of friendship, and I deeply appreciate that on behalf of myself and on behalf of the United States of America. I'm also deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to consult with Prime Minister Cameron. I had a chance to meet with him yesterday, and I appreciate the hospitality, and again, the close partnership as well.
In addition to these two very important meetings over the last two days, I've had the chance to meet and interact with some of the young British troops who recently returned from Afghanistan. I express my deepest appreciation to them, to their families for their willingness to put their lives on the line. I know that Great Britain has paid a heavy price in the commitment to Afghanistan, and my condolences go out to those families that were impacted by those losses. But my fervent hope is that all of the lives that have been lost were not lost in vain and that ultimately, we will fulfill the mission for which they gave their lives.
In addition, I had a chance to meet with the university students at a speech yesterday. I had a long session with members of Parliament in which we discussed a number of issues involving Great Britain and the United States, and had the opportunity to meet with numerous defense officials as well. So I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity that I've had here. The discussions have reaffirmed the continuing strength of the historic relationship between our two nations. These discussions also underscored the numerous security challenges that we face together at this moment in time: the war in Afghanistan, continuing threat from terrorism, maintaining pressure on Iran, continuing to pressure the Assad Regime to step down and to allow the people of Syria to enjoy the benefits of political reform, the Cyber threats that impact countries in a new technological age and dealing with budget constraints.
Our working lunch today addressed a lot of these challenges. And regarding the ongoing hostage situation in Algeria, as Secretary Hammond said, we are trying to stay informed of the situation. A lot of this information still remains sketchy. We know that lives have been lost. And I pledge to continue our close consultation on this issue until the crisis has finally ended. Just as we cannot accept terrorism attacks against our cities, we cannot accept attacks against our citizens or our interests abroad, neither can we accept an al-Qaeda safe haven anywhere in the world, a lesson our nations learned in the tragic aftermath of 9/11 and the seven attacks here in Britain.
To that end, the secretary and I discussed our plans to contribute to the international effort to target AQIM in Mali and consulted extensively on the way ahead in Afghanistan. I updated the secretary on the successful meetings we held in Washington last week with President Karzai where we affirmed that this spring Afghan forces will move into the lead for combat with ISAF in support. By the end of next year, a sovereign and independent Afghanistan will be responsible for securing and governing all of its people. This is what the mission in Afghanistan was all about, an Afghanistan that could govern and secure itself so that it would never again become a safe haven for terrorism.
British troops, as I said, have demonstrated incredible courage on the battlefields of Afghanistan and made terrible sacrifices that we will never forget. In particular, the American people will forever mourn the more than 400 fallen British heroes of this war. As we bring this conflict to an end next year, we must do everything possible to ensure these sacrifices are not in vain by continuing our long term support for the stability and security of Afghanistan, including the sustainment of the ANSF and the enduring presence of international forces.
Looking more broadly at the future, Secretary Hammond and I also discussed our defense strategies. Both of our nations are facing significant fiscal challenges. That's a reality. And we are being forced to make some very tough decisions when it comes to future defense investments. Yet, we have also determined that we must embrace new ways of doing business in order to fulfill our obligations to national security. For example, through the Innovative Aircraft Carrier Cooperation Effort that we launched one year ago this month which will bring our navies closer together than ever, that is a model for the kind of cooperation we need to engage in for the future.
I also deeply appreciate the United Kingdom's leadership and the effort to reform NATO to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. As I said yesterday in a speech at King's College, it is when resources are constraint and security challenges are growing that we need to be creative and innovative in order to make our alliances stronger in face of the challenges we confront. To quote Winston Churchill, "This is no time for ease and comfort. This is the time to dare and to endure." No alliance has counted more for global security and global prosperity than this very special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.
As I depart London and retire from my position as secretary of defense, I am profoundly honored to have been able to do my part with Secretary Hammond to ensure that this alliance continues to play that role and endures well into the future. This is a bond between the United States and Great Britain that was born in the blood of battle. It is a bond that will forever be sustained with the hope that we can provide peace in the world. Thank you.
SEC. HAMMOND: We have time for a couple of questions.
Q: Secretary of state, Hammond and also to Mr. Panetta. You have both talked about the haven for terrorism in North Africa and connecting that to Afghanistan. Are we looking at North Africa and Mali becoming the new Afghanistan and if so, will we see the British or American troops fighting?
SEC. HAMMOND: Well, as you know, we have no plans to involve British troops in combat. In Mali we're providing logistic and intelligence support to the French.
But I think the reality is that anywhere in the world where there is ungoverned space, whether it's Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, the Sahel, AQ, will see that space as an opportunity to regroup and to mount attacks on our interest and western interests. But we must be vigilant, firstly in preventing ungoverned spaces from arising and where they do arise, from shutting them down as quickly as possible.
The right way to do that is by supporting local governments building custody, providing practical support to local governments and regional forces and certainly in the case of Mali, that is the route that we intend to go, supporting the Malian government and supporting local ECOWAS and African union forces in restoring the control of Malian government across all of that territory of that country.
SEC. PANETTA: Since 9/11 we've made very clear that nobody is going to attack the United States of America and get away with it. And for that reason, we have made a commitment that we're going to go after al-Qaeda wherever they are and wherever they try to hide. And we have done that, obviously, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan. We've done it in Somalia and Yemen and we will do it in North Africa as well.
But as the secretary pointed out, 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 and the region to work with us to develop the capability of identifying where they're located and the ability to conduct operations against al-Qaeda.
I am very confident, and based on the efforts we have made that if we continue to pressure al-Qaeda, we can keep them on the run. The one thing we cannot do is be complacent or take for granted the fact that somehow they can exist and establish a base of operations in the world. That is unacceptable.
Q: So just to clarify. Neither of you was thinking about sending fighting soldiers anywhere there?
SEC. PANETTA: We're not planning troops on the ground in that area.
Q: Secretary Panetta, On Algeria, the U.S. has reminded the Algerian government to deal with AQIM threat in North Africa. Given how they’ve handled the situation and hostage crisis, how confident are you that U.S. will continue to rely on them to deal with this threat? And are you able to clarify how many Americans were involved her how many were taken hostage, how many have been killed and how many were released into safety?
SEC. PANETTA: First of all with regards to the numbers of Americans, we are still trying to get accurate information about just exactly how many Americans were located there and exactly what happened to them. We have sketchy information, and I just don't want to say anything until we've been able to fully confirm what the situation is. But we do know that there were Americans there, and we do know that they were -- they were held hostage. As to what has happened, that's something, frankly, we just need to get better information on.
With regards to Algeria, Algeria is one of those countries that we do have to work with in confronting AQIM. They are in the region. They understand the threat from terrorism better, probably, than a lot of other countries. And they've developed the capability to try to deal with terrorism. I think it's important that we continue to work with them to develop a regional approach to making sure that AQIM does not develop a safe haven in that part of the world. And every one of these countries has their approach to dealing with terrorism. And I'm not going to make judgments about what's good or bad. What I care about is that they do everything they can to make sure that AQIM does not establish a base of operations in that area. That's what I care about.
Q: (inaudible) threaten that region and stability of the region?
SEC. HAMMOND: Well in terms of the Algerian government's management of this crisis, they've been clear from the outset this is something they were going to manage themselves and Secretary Panetta has said, there can be no doubting their commitment to dealing with this terrorism wherever and whenever it raises its head. And they've dealt with it today. Of course, as Secretary Panetta also said, different countries have different approaches to dealing with these things. And we often find working with allies around the world that they don't always do things, perhaps, in the same way that we would do. But 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.
In terms of the leaders who are responsible for this attack, they will be held to account for their actions. I wouldn't -- I wouldn't want to dignify any particular individual by saying that he did or didn't assume the matter of another. But people behind this attack can be sure that the full force of the United States, the United Kingdom and other ally countries will bear down on them, and they will not find a place to hide. Do you want to add to it?
SEC. PANETTA: I think that, that was fine.
Q: Julian Barnes of the Wall Street Journal. You've said repeatedly that AQIM was a threat and you've talked about the safe haven and base of operations. It seems like there is a base of operations that is in Mali. The French did try to act to stop the advancement of that safe haven, but yet they have gotten only some of what they've asked for from the United States. They’ve gotten logistic help and are being charged for it, they are not getting the drones they have requested, they’re not getting the tankers. Is this sending a message that while the United States talks tough, it's not actually willing to help its allies fully take on Al Qaeda?
SEC. PANETTA: On the contrary, I think we have worked very closely with the French with regards to this effort that they've embarked on, and we've commended the French for this effort. And we are, in fact, providing assistance to the French. We have provided intelligence information to them to assist them in that situation. We are providing airlift to try to assist them to be able to project more of their force into the area. We are in discussions with them in terms of planning for what the objections -- objectives ought to be and what steps we need to take in the future, particularly with regards to involving the African countries, the West African countries in that effort. And we are continuing to talk to them about additional assistance.
So we are going to do everything we can to try to assist them in this effort. As I might say other countries, European countries are, in fact, assisting and Great Britain is doing the same. This is -- this is an effort by all, all of us who've had to confront terrorism to make clear that we will work together to do whatever we can to try to go after al-Qaeda wherever they are. And we've done that, as I said, in Afghanistan. We've done it in Pakistan. We've done it in Iraq. We've done it in Yemen. We've done it in Somalia, and now we will do it in North Africa.
Q: Thank you.
SEC. HAMMOND: Thank you.
SEC. PANETTA: Thank you.