New U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday, 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 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, think we really can strategically defeat al Qaeda,” he said.