Panetta: Defeat of al Qaeda 'within reach'

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in Afghanistan Saturday that the U.S. is “within reach of strategically defeating” al Qaeda.

In his first trip to the war zone as Defense secretary, Panetta voiced confidence in the military’s ability to track down terrorist leaders in Pakistan, Yemen and other key countries, according to the American Forces Press Service.

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“If we can be successful in going after them, I think we can really undermine their ability to do any kind of planning, to be able to conduct any kind of attack on this country,” Panetta, the former CIA director, told reporters in Kabul. “It’s within reach. Is it going to take more work? You bet it is.”

He said a key to defeating al Qaeda was finding 10-20 leaders in the Middle East and Africa.

“We have undermined their ability to conduct 9-11-type attacks,” Panetta said. “We have them on the run. Now is the moment, following what happened to [Osama] bin Laden to put maximum pressure on them, because I do believe if we continue this effort we can cripple al-Qaida as a threat.”

Panetta took over the Defense Department from Robert Gates on July 1.