WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Defense Department needs to ensure that groups tied to al-Qaida don't gain traction in war-torn countries like Mali, the U.S. defense secretary said.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Dine are two militant groups suspected of human rights violations after they claimed autonomy in northern Mali following an early 2012 coup. U.N. officials said there were alleged reports of at least three recent summary executions, eight amputations and two floggings in northern Mali.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said al-Qaida must not be allowed to gain a foothold or "develop a command-and-control capability" in countries like Mali.
"I believe the effort now ought to be to work with nations in that region to ensure that al-Qaida does not develop that kind of base in Mali," he said.
The French government this week hosted an international conference on proposals for a broad-based intervention in Mali. Panetta said any military incursion there should be developed with regional allies who share similar concerns about insecurity in the region.
The U.N. Security Council, in a unanimous vote last week, called on the Economic Community of West African States to outline plans for military deployment to Mali within 45 days.