US defense chief says al Qaeda’s defeat “within reach”

KABUL, (Reuters) – New U.S. Defense Secretary Leon  Panetta arrived in Afghanistan today, saying he believed  the strategic defeat of al Qaeda was within reach if the United  States could kill or capture up to 20 remaining leaders of the  core group and its affiliates.
Panetta, on his first trip since taking over the Pentagon  on July 1, told reporters before arriving in Kabul that now was  the time — in the wake of the May killing of Osama bin Laden  — to intensify efforts to target al Qaeda’s leadership.
“We’re within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda and  I’m hoping to be able to focus on that, working obviously with  my prior agency as well,” said Panetta, who ran the CIA until  the end of June.
“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 that we can really cripple al Qaeda as  a threat to (the United States).”
Panetta declined to offer all the names of al Qaeda  leadership the United States was looking at. But he singled out  two men: Anwar al-Awlaki, an American imam who has become a  senior leader of al Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate, and Ayman  al-Zawahri, who replaced bin Laden as the head of al Qaeda.
Panetta said he believed Zawahri was living in Pakistan’s  tribal areas, and “he’s one of those we would like to see the  Pakistanis target.”
“I would say somewhere around 10-20 key leaders that  between Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, AQIM (al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb) in North Africa. Those are, if we can go after them, I  think we really can strategically defeat al Qaeda,” he said.
Panetta added that the U.S. military and the CIA were  engaged in a number of operations focusing on militants in  Yemen. He did not give specifics.

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