MADRID -- Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Tuesday that France faced a difficult task in trying to rout extremists from a vast area in northern Mali and that the Pentagon remained in talks with the French over what kind of military aid the United States would provide.
At a news conference, Mr. Panetta deflected a question asking him to assess any progress the French had made against the extremists, who overran a central village on Monday only hours after the French foreign minister said confidently that France had blocked "the advance of the terrorists." Militants were pushing toward one of Mali's largest cities as France continued with airstrikes and pledged more troops.
Mr. Panetta said the United States was "still trying to get a read" on French efforts and strategy.
"I can't really give you a full analysis as to just exactly what they're targeting and how successful or not successful they may be in that effort as of this moment," Mr. Panetta said at a joint news conference with the Spanish defense minister, Pedro Morenés. But Mr. Panetta added that "any time you confront an enemy that is dispersed and that is not located necessarily in one area makes it challenging, and the ability to go after that enemy and be able to stop them from moving forward represents a difficult task."
Mr. Panetta, who is on a weeklong trip to Europe, reiterated that the United States would offer France air and logistical support but declined to be more specific.
Earlier Tuesday in Lisbon, Mr. Panetta restated the administration position that the United States would not send ground troops to Mali. "There is no consideration of putting any American boots on the ground at this time," he said.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.