Is the U.S. Close to Defeating Al Qaeda? Panetta Says Yes
Has the moment arrived? Is the United States close to defeating Al Qaeda two months after the death of its leader and symbol Osama bin Laden? Saying that Al Qaeda’s end is near is the kind of rhetoric officials have studiously tried to avoid. And many who are pros in intelligence, anti-terrorism and the military weigh their words carefully. But the words of the Obama Administration’s new Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta make it clear the administration feels we are in a new era:
The United States is “within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda,” Leon Panetta declared, as he traveled to Afghanistan for his first visit there as Secretary of Defense.
Speaking to reporters aboard a government flight to Kabul, Panetta said intelligence gathered during the raid at Osama bin Laden’s compound has lead the United States to target 10-20 key al Qaeda leaders.
“If we can go after them, I think we really can strategically defeat al Qaeda,” Panetta said.
The success of the May raid on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where bin Laden was killed, along with “operations that we conducted at the CIA,” has undermined the terror organization’s ability to conduct 9/11-type attacks, he added.
“I think we have them on the run,” Panetta said. “I think now is the moment, following what happened with bin Laden, to put maximum pressure on them, because I do believe that if we continue this effort we really can cripple al Qaeda as a threat to this country.
“Is it going to take some more work? You bet it is. But I think it’s within reach,” Panetta said.
Panetta also said he believes Aymin al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s new commander, is living in the tribal areas of Pakistan, known as the FATA.
Panetta is not one prone to exaggeration. His words suggest the outlook for erradicating at least the organizational structure of Al Qaeda is within sight. Which is not the same thing as eliminating terrorism. But it’s a good start.