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U.S., U.K. Say They Have No Plans to Send Troops to North Africa

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Jan. 19 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and British counterpart Philip Hammond said they have no plans to send soldiers to North Africa following the Algerian hostage crisis, though pledged to continue battling al-Qaeda.

“We’re not planning to have troops on the ground in that area,” Panetta said at a joint briefing with Hammond in London today. “As we face this enemy we’ve to adapt the best efforts to be able to ensure we do this effectively. That involves working with the countries in the region to work with us to develop the capability in identifying where they’re located.”

They were speaking after Algeria’s special forces attacked a natural gas plant where al-Qaeda-linked militants held foreign captives. Eleven terrorists and seven hostages were killed in the raid, and the defense secretaries said they are seeking clarification from Algerian authorities.

The Islamic militants who struck the gas plant on Jan. 16 called themselves “Signatories by Blood.” They had demanded that France end its military intervention in neighboring Mali, which began on Jan. 11.

Hammond said Britain has “no plans” to send troops to Mali and was providing support to France. He added that the best way to prevent the spread of al-Qaeda was to provide “practical support” to local governments and regional military forces.

“Anywhere in the world, where there’s ungoverned spaces whether it’s Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, the Sahel, al-Qaeda will see that space as an opportunity to regroup and to mount attacks on our interests,” Hammond said. “We must be vigilant, firstly in preventing ungoverned spaces from arising, and where they do, shutting them down.”

Panetta echoed Hammond, saying that “if we continue to pressure al-Qaeda, we can keep them on the run. The one thing we cannot do is be complacent.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Fergal O’Brien in London at fobrien@bloomberg.net; Gopal Ratnam in Washington at gratnam1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dick Schumacher at dschumacher@bloomberg.net

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