Algeria Hostages: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta Talks With Martha Raddatz

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SECRETARY PANETTA: That -- the first estimates -- indicate that -- somewhere in that vicinity might be -- you know, those that are being held. But again I just want to -- want to make clear that -- the information we're getting is very sketchy. And -- right now we just really don't know -- how many are being held.

MARTHA RADDATZ: But -- but do you believe they're being held by Al Qaeda affiliated militants?

SECRETARY PANETTA: I don't think there's any question that -- based on what we do know that this was -- a terrorist act and -- that the terrorists -- have affiliation with Al Qaeda.

MARTHA RADDATZ: And do you believe this has something to do with Mali and the action -- the French led action that's taking place in Mali?

SECRETARY PANETTA: You know -- the exact motivations -- again I'm -- I'm just not sure of. All I do know is that -- when you're dealing with -- with affiliates of Al Qaeda -- that they're terrorists and they will do terrorist acts. And that's what they've done here. We've faced this kind of terrorism (CELL PHONE RINGS) from Al Qaeda -- we've faced this kind of terrorism from Al Qaeda -- beginning with 9/11. We faced it -- we faced it in Pakistan, we faced it in Afghanistan. We've seen it in Somalia, we've seen it in Yemen. And now we're seeing it -- in -- in Algeria. That's what terrorists do. They have n -- they have total disregard for -- innocent men and women and children. And it's reflected in what they just did here in Algeria.

MARTHA RADDATZ: I know you have been concerned about Mali for a long time. What kind of involvement do you see the U.S. having there? And is there a red line that would be crossed in Mali where the U.S. would put boots on the ground?

SECRETARY PANETTA: You know, I -- I think right now that -- and I've always felt this way about -- Mali is that -- the best way to address that -- is -- with the international community working with African nations -- to determine exactly, you know, w -- where -- where -- is AQIM located, where are the targets of opportunity and how can we address those targets -- together. And -- what France has done here -- which -- which I commend -- is to try to stop the momentum of -- AQIM to establish a base of operations in Mali. And -- we are obviously -- working with the international community to determine -- what kind of -- assistance can be provided -- and also -- working with France to determine exactly what the objectives have to be. The key, I think, is that ultimately the African nations, particularly the West African nations -- ECOWAS have to ultimately go in and resume responsibility for providing security in Mali. That—

MARTHA RADDATZ: So you don't ever see -- American boots on the ground with this situation in Mali?

SECRETARY PANETTA: Not at this time.

MARTHA RADDATZ: And how concerned should Americans be about the Al Qaeda presence there? Why should Americans be concerned about an Al Qaeda presence in Mali?

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