Panetta: U.S. Assistance to French in Mali Could Serve as Model

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In his second inaugural address, President Obama said, "We, the people still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war."

In an interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz on Capitol Hill after the swearing-in ceremony, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta explained that the president didn't mean that after a decade of war there would be no more national security threats.

"I think it does mean that we're going to have to work with other countries to develop the kinds of alliances and partnerships that bring other countries into the challenge of how we preserve peace. It just can't be the U.S.," said Panetta.

Panetta's comments came at the same time that the first American C-17 landed in Mali as part of a U.S. effort to assist France's military intervention in that country against al Qaeda affiliated insurgents.

Reporting from Bamako, Mali's capital, ABC News correspondent Bazi Kanani reported Monday that the U.S. Air Force C-17 brought in several dozen French troops, equipment and vehicles. Additional C-17 flights were expected to continue throughout the week to help France deploy a 600-man armored battalion to Mali.

Panetta said the kind of logistical assistance that the United States is providing France could serve as a model for future military assistance to international partners. "Our willingness and ability to help other countries like France be able to go after AQIM (al Qaeda in the Maghreb). I think is the kind of model that you're going to see in the future."

In addition to cargo planes, the U.S. is also providing the French with intelligence for its military effort. However, the U.S. has not yet made a decision on meeting French requests for unmanned surveillance drones and for mid-air refueling tankers to support French fighters conducting airstrikes against insurgent strongholds in northern Mali.

When asked if the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan after 2014 might lead to an increased reliance on drone strikes, Panetta said the U.S. must continue to "use what … what operational skills we have to go after those that would attack our country."

"I think that's reality," said Panetta. "We've done that in Pakistan. We're doing it in Yemen and elsewhere. And I think the reality is its going to be a continuing tool of national defense in the future."

Panetta predicted that his expected successor, former Sen. Chuck Hegel, would be confirmed by the Senate "without question" despite what is expected to be a rocky confirmation battle. "These guys will throw some tough questions at him," said Panetta. "But, you know, he's been here, he knows the Senate, and I'm confident he'll get through."

With a lifetime of public service about to end as he leaves his defense secretary post, Panetta said attending Obama's second inauguration was "an emotional experience." He said he had brought along his youngest son, Jim.

"It's a thrill every time you go through this," said Panetta. He said he was proud of his public service and hoped that young people who saw today's inauguration would "commit themselves to public service, because that's what our democracy needs."