Panetta says defeat of Al Qaeda is ‘within reach’

The New York Times reports:

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who arrived in Kabul on Saturday, said the United States was “within reach of strategically defeating Al Qaeda” and that the American focus had narrowed to capturing or killing 10 to 20 crucial leaders of the terrorist group in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Mr. Panetta, who took over as defense secretary from Robert M. Gates on July 1, made his comments aboard his plane before arriving on an unannounced trip to Afghanistan.

They were Mr. Panetta’s first public remarks in his new post and among the most positive from a senior American national security official about the decade-old war against the terrorist organization, founded by Osama bin Laden, that was responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. Panetta, who as director of the Central Intelligence Agency ran the American commando raid that killed Bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, said that vanquishing Al Qaeda was one of his most important goals as defense secretary.

“Obviously we made an important start with that in getting rid of Bin Laden,” Mr. Panetta said. “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.”

Mr. Panetta, who rarely spoke on the record as C.I.A. director but has a more public role now, offered few details to bolster his assessment. But intelligence officials have said that computer files retrieved from Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, showed that the organization was in dire need of money and struggling under persistent American drone strikes on its leadership.

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