(WASHINGTON) — Given the U.S. assistance to the French intervention in Mali, Pentagon spokesman George Little started Tuesday’s briefing by speaking in French, perhaps hoping his comments might be heard on French news networks. In his remarks, he said the United States has been sharing intelligence with the French in Mali because al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) poses a threat to the region and the interests of the United States.
Little also provided updates on the U.S. logistical support to the French.
“As of January 27th the United States Air Force has flown 17 C-17 sorties, moving French personnel … supplies. And on January 27th the United States Air Force began refueling support to French air operations.”
He didn’t provide any specifics about how the U.S. military plans to transport troops from the militaries of Chad and Togo to help with the intervention in Mali.
Little was asked if AQIM really poses a threat to the U.S. He said he was unaware “of any specific or credible information at this time that points to an AQIM threat against the homeland. But again, I’m not ruling it out.” He said the U.S. continues to take al Qaeda “very seriously” and spoke of how Panetta has “been very clear for a long time, since he was CIA director, that we have to go after AQ wherever they are, to include in South Asia, to include in other parts of Africa and to include North Africa, places like Yemen, as well. We are taking the fight in various ways to al Qaeda, and we’ve been doing very effectively for a number of years now.”
When asked about AFRICOM’s idea to set up a drone base in neighboring Niger, Little said he wouldn’t speculate about a drone presence in that country. He did, however, acknowledge that after a year of talks the U.S. has reached a status of forces agreement with Niger, and that talks are under way about a U.S. military presence in the future, though he had no specifics.
Little confirmed that last week the U.S. helped intercept a dhow off the coast of Yemen that appeared to be carrying arms from Iran to Yemen. Little said statements from the crew indicated that the vessel had come from Iran. But he wouldn’t get into specifics about whether the ship was carrying shoulder fired anti-air missiles as has been reported. He was very vague and without providing many details, he said, “We did provide support to the government of Yemen in intercepting and inspecting a vessel suspected of smuggling contraband into Yemen. We commend the government of Yemen for their actions in this interdiction.”
As for the upcoming troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, Little said there has still not been a presidential decision as to how many U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends at the end of 2014.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Sugam Pokharel and AJ Willingham, CNN
Alanna Petroff, CNN
Ivana Kottasova, CNN