Panetta: African terrorists a real concern

Leon Panetta
Leon Panetta
CBS News

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said recently that al Qaeda terrorists may regroup in Africa, and that is why the U.S. is sending 100 Special Forces troops to one of the most violent places on Earth.

The first 40 Americans have arrived in the region that includes South Sudan, scene of a long running civil war, and the Congo, site of the deadliest conflict since World War II.

CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley sat down with Panetta, who said the Americans will train local forces to fight terrorists, including al Qaeda.

Pelley: You're sending a hundred troops in, roughly. Is that the beginning of many more?

Penetta: We are all very careful about making sure that no mission like this expands beyond limits, and that we keep a tight reign. And for the moment this is more than adequate to meet the mission that we're assigned.

Pelley: Why now?

Panetta: The longer you delay, the longer you avoid trying to assign some assistance there, the more dangerous these groups become and the greater the instability that develops there.

Pelley: Did you have reason to believe that this part of Central Africa was becoming a haven for terrorism?

Panetta: There are elements there that either have ties to al Qaeda or that represent the forces of terrorism on their own. And that's what's dangerous.

Pelley: A lot of folks at home would be concerned after the experience in Afghanistan and Iraq to hear about more US forces going into an area that you consider to be unstable.

Panetta: The American people should be concerned. I'm concerned. The Congress is concerned. And for that reason we have to exercise the greatest caution.

Secretary Panetta also told CBS News he hopes to keep some U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the deadline for withdrawal at the end of the year. That is still under negotiation with the Iraqi government.

A injured woman is carried from a United Nation's office after a car blew up in Abuja, Nigeria, Friday, Aug. 26, 2011. A car laden with explosives rammed through two gates and blew up at the United Nations' offices in Nigeria's capital Friday, killing at least seven people and shattering part of the concrete structure. AP Photo