All-Star Panel: Will US respond to Islamic extremism in Africa?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 16, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: An attack today on national gas complex part owned by BP in Algeria. Al Qaeda militants attacking this complex today, killing two. Dozens of foreigners kidnapped, among them at least three Americans. We are told this was a big operation. This is still ongoing at this time. It' s the best information we have. We have the House Intelligence Committee chairman -- you're taking a look at the facility right now, it's surrounded by Algerians -- the local Algerian military, we're told. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said "The kidnapping of the Americans and other westerners in Algeria brazenly raises the stakes in an already very volatile region. Militant groups and terrorists with ties to AQIM, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, are becoming increasingly brash in their activities. The Obama administration needs to have a clear and focused policy on eliminating the threats that diverse Al Qaeda affiliated groups pose to United States and to Americans working abroad off of the usual battlefields. Additionally, this administration needs to better understand the specific threats posed by AQIM and other Al Qaeda affiliated groups.  If we don't deal with these militant groups and terrorists swiftly and effectively they will only pose an increased threat in the future as they already have in Benghazi -- Benghazi -- Libya, and now Algeria and Mali."

Back with the panel. This group said that they were retaliating for the French operation in Mali because Algeria let the French use air space to attack Mali Islamic terrorists. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, it shows you how the region has become a no-man's-land dominated by these Islamists. We had the Benghazi attack and we thought it was just an outlier. Essentially it's the same people, the same affiliated groups. And the groups in the region saw the complete lack of response any seriousness by the United States about the Benghazi attack, about the leading suspect in the attack going openly in the streets of Benghazi. And that they also see that the world had not responded when they took over half a country in Mali, which is not like Afghanistan at the end of the world but it's in the middle of Africa right near Europe and in the heart of the West essentially. And nobody was doing anything about it. We were organizing a group of other French ex-colonies to send troops who would not have arrived until the fall. So I think the fact that the French responded has sparked this response, obviously, from AQIM and they want to see what the West will do.  I suspect the West is not going to do a lot.

BAIER: Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: The West should do a lot. I think that this is, obviously now, the center of terrorist activity in the world. You can say that that locus has shifted from Pakistan and Afghanistan to here. And the question is, are people willing to take action? Now one of the complicating factors today was that the State Department says to the military that there are rules against you going in. This is a complicated back-story having to do with the U.S. military having trained people who were involved in coups in Mali that has apparently opened door to some of this extremist activity. The State Department does not want military intervention. I don't think the military wants direct intervention, but they want to be able to help the French. And I think that we are moving in the direction -- that the administration is moving in the direction of saying yes, it's time. There's no question these are bad people.

BAIER: Steve, to Charles' point about not getting to the bottom of Benghazi and going after those terrorists who killed the U.S. ambassador there, and seeing that Tunisian let go, do you agree that that sends a message?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Absolutely. I don't think there is any question. Remember, it's not just Benghazi. Remember, on September 11 and the days immediately following we had attacks on U.S. facilities throughout the region. You had attacks on the embassy in Tunisia on September 14. You had the flag flying in Egypt. You had all of these attacks on U.S. interests throughout the region with basically no response from the U.S. government. So I don't think there is any question but that they are emboldened.

The key thing to remember here, and we were talking about this just last night. These affiliate groups have been growing in strength over the past several years. And Mike Rogers is absolutely right to sound the kinds of warnings that he did in his statement, but he's not the first person to do it. Carter Ham, who was then AFRICOM commander in July said, quote, "The U.S. government missed an opportunity to deal with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb when they had the chance." That is, I think, a devastating indictment from somebody inside the administration.

BAIER: We will hear more about these policy arguments ahead of Secretary Clinton testifying January 23 about Benghazi, too. That is it for the panel. But stay tuned to see a video that may be too close for comfort.

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