US Readies Support of French in Mali Fight

US and French defense officials are discussing the details of the airlift, intelligence, and logistics assistance that the United States will provide to French forces in Mali who are fighting al Qaeda-aligned Islamist militias, said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday. “I commend France for taking the steps that it has,” Panetta told reporters on a flight to Lisbon, Portugal, on the first leg of his week-long official Europe visit. “What we have promised them is that we will work with them to . . . provide whatever assistance we can to try to help them,” he added. Panetta said the United States has “a responsibility to make sure that al Qaeda does not establish a base for operations in North Africa and Mali.” French warplanes, including Gazelle attack helicopters and Mirage 2000D and Rafale fighters, struck the Islamist rebels in Mali starting on Jan. 11 as part of “Operation Serval,” a broader military intervention to prevent them from seizing Bamako, the West African nation’s capital. The French also airlifted roughly 200 troops over the weekend to reinforce Bamako, according to the French defense ministry. (Includes AFPS report by Karen Parrish) (See also Fox News report.)