Published: Jan 14, 2013 1:55 PM EST

ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT (AP) - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the U.S. is already providing intelligence-gathering assistance to the French in their assault on Islamist extremists in Mali.
    
Speaking to reporters traveling with him to Europe, Panetta said that while al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other affiliate groups in Mali may not pose an immediate threat to the United States, "ultimately that remains their objective."
    
A senior U.S. official said talks were continuing to determine exactly what other aid will be provided. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue and requested anonymity.
    
Panetta's comments came as the French continued bombing raids across Mali's north in an effort to root out extremists who seized control of a large chunk of the region about nine months ago.

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