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REFILE-UPDATE 1-U.S. vows to pursue militants behind Algeria attack

LONDON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Friday militants who attacked the United States and its citizens will be hunted down, in the first comments by a senior U.S. official on a hostage attack by Islamist militants in Algeria. He said the U.S. government was working around the clock to ensure the safe return of its citizens caught up in the Algeria crisis.

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LONDON-U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY LEON PANETTA SAYS TERRORISTS WILL NOT FIND SANCTUARY IN ALGERIA, NORTH AFRICA, ANYWHERE

UPDATE 1-U.S. vows to pursue militants behind Algeria attack

LONDON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Friday militants who attacked the United States and its citizens will hunted down, in the first comments by a senior U.S. official on a hostage attack by Islamist militants in Algeria. He said the U.S. government was working around the clock to ensure the safe return of its citizens caught up in the Algeria crisis.

UPDATE 1-US expands limited support for French mission in Mali

WASHINGTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - The United States has agreed to a French request for airlift capacity to help France move its troops and equipment to Mali, a limited expansion of American support in the battle against Islamist rebels there, U.S. officials said on Thursday. The U.S. decision, while widely expected, comes after an Obama administration legal review to decide what assistance Washington could provide to France, which last week began a military operation against the militants in Mali.

U.S. troops in Italy quiz Panetta about looming budget cuts

* Pentagon facing 'perfect storm' of fiscal problems- Panetta * Department will pay a 'hell of a price' if cuts go into effect By David Alexander VICENZA, Italy, Jan 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that Congress should "suck it up" and show the leadership needed to fix the fiscal crisis that has thrown Pentagon budgeting into confusion and threatened national security.

UPDATE 1-U.S. confirms Americans among hostages in Algeria attack

WASHINGTON, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The United States said on Wednesday that U.S. citizens were among the hostages taken when Islamist militants raided a gas facility in Algeria and that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had telephoned Algeria's prime minister to discuss the incident. "Beyond confirming that there are Americans among the hostages, I will ask you to respect our decision not to get into any further details as we try to secure these people," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.

Panetta tells Portugal U.S. remains committed to Azores base

LISBON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that the Pentagon remains committed the Lajes Air Base in Portugal's Azores despite deciding to cut personnel and operations there. Panetta, speaking at a news conference in Lisbon with Portuguese counterpart, Defense Minister Jose Aguiar-Brancoin, also acknowledged that the cutbacks at one of the island's largest employers would be harmful to the area's economy.

US military suicides hit record in 2012, outpace combat deaths

WASHINGTON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The number of U.S. troops committing suicide set a record in 2012, exceeding the number of combat deaths, the Pentagon said on Monday. The Pentagon said 349 active-duty troops killed themselves in 2012, up more than 15 percent from 2011 despite renewed efforts by the military to stem the suicide rate. "This is an epidemic that cannot be ignored," said Senator Patty Murray, who championed legislation last year to improve suicide prevention efforts and mental health care for troops and veterans.

UPDATE 1-Pentagon ordered to begin steps to offset impact of looming defense cuts

* Freeze on civilian hiring, delays sought for maintenance * Precautionary planning for civilian unpaid leave * "We cannot sit back and not be prepared for the worst" By David Alexander WASHINGTON, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday he had ordered the U.S. military services to freeze civilian hiring, delay maintenance work and reduce other spending as fears grow the Pentagon will likely face another huge budget cut in March.

UPDATE 4-Obama picks Hagel for defense, Brennan for CIA

* Faces Senate battle on two fronts * Hagel faces questions on Israel, gays * Brennan's previous CIA tenure under scrutiny * Moves fill out reshuffled national security team By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton
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