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

ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz traveled with and interviewed outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta during his final trip overseas this week. Portions of the exclusive television interview will air Thursday, Jan. 17 on "World News with Diane Sawyer" at 6:30 p.m., ET. The extended interview posts Friday, Jan.18 as part of "On the Radar" on Yahoo!

"On the Radar" is a new weekly show from ABC News and Yahoo! that takes an expansive look at the defense, intelligence and foreign affairs worlds through the lens of U.S. policy and national security.

MARTHA RADDATZ: Thanks for joining us, Mr. Secretary, and talking to us today. I -- I want to start with Algeria. And some of the statements you've made make it look like you are -- the U.S. is weighing options on what to do with that hostage situation.

SECRETARY PANETTA: Well, there's no question that -- when this kind of terrorist act takes place -- and it involves -- hostages -- some of whom -- are American -- that's a serious matter. And -- United States -- takes that -- very seriously -- when -- our citizens -- are put in jeopardy -- by terrorists. So for that reason -- w -- we're looking at the situation -- very closely to determine exactly what happened, exactly -- what the situation is there on the ground. And -- then -- you can be assured that -- we're looking at -- all of the necessary steps -- that -- that we need to take in order to deal with that situation.

MARTHA RADDATZ: And what kind of things are you looking at?

SECRETARY PANETTA: Well, I -- you know, I -- I'm not gonna go into particulars here. But -- obviously we're gonna -- look at -- at what the situation is -- how best to address it -- how can we -- bring our -- our military assets to bear in order to deal with it and h -- and also basically talk with the other countries that are involved here. There are a number of other countries that are in the same situation with these individuals. How can we -- how can we address that as -- that situation together?

MARTHA RADDATZ: What is the latest you know about what's going on there right now, where the hostages are, the -- the Algerians have surrounded the place, what the hostage takers are doing or saying?

SECRETARY PANETTA: Yeah, I mean, I -- you know, frankly -- the information's pretty sketchy. We don't -- you know -- this is -- an area that's -- in a pretty remote area of Algeria. And -- we know it involves a BP installation -- and the people that work there. But -- beyond that -- you know, just how many hostages are being held, where they're being held -- you know, the individuals -- that are involved here, I mean, that -- that's the kind of -- information we're hoping to get more of so that we can better assess just exactly what is the situation on the ground and therefore what do we -- what do we need to do in order to address it.

MARTHA RADDATZ: And you said possibly as many as 100 hostages?

SECRETARY PANETTA: Well, there -- there were -- I think about 100 people that were involved -- in the -- the facility there. How many of them are actually being held hostage we just don't know.

MARTHA RADDATZ: And perhaps seven, eight Americans?

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?

SECRETARY PANETTA: Americans have to be concerned about Al Qaeda wherever they are -- they're at. You know, we've -- we've made clear -- both in my past job as director of the C.I.A. and in this job that Al Qaeda should have no place to hide. We've gotta go after 'em wherever they are. Because -- they have made v -- very clear that their primary objective is to attack the United States of America. And -- as long as that is their objective -- we have to confront them and make sure that -- we do everything possible -- to deter them from doing that -- to go after their leadership -- and to ensure that the American people are kept safe. That's -- that's been the challenge of the last ten years. And AQIM in Mali represents just another facet of Al Qaeda trying to establish a base of operations from which ultimately they could -- try to attack the United States and Europe. And that's unacceptable.

A full transcript of Raddatz's interview will be posted on on Friday.