Despite the killings of Osama bin Laden and radical US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the Al-Qaeda terror network remains a “real threat to the United States,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a TV interview. Panetta’s stance came after President Barack Obama’s yesterday’s remarks that “Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country, most of Al-Qaeda s top lieutenants have been defeated.”
CBS News released excerpts of an interview with Panetta scheduled to run Sunday, in which the Pentagon chief discusses US strategy to disband Al-Qaeda s global networks. “We re going after Al-Qaeda, wherever they re at,” Panetta told CBS in the interview excerpt. “And clearly, we re confronting Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. We re confronting the nodes of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, in Somalia, in North Africa and obviously whatever Al-Qaeda links are involved in Afghanistan,” he said. Have US forces have defeated Al-Qaeda? “Not yet,” Panetta said. “They re still a real threat. There s still Al-Qaeda out there. And we ve got to continue to put pressure on them wherever they re at.” Panetta however said that US forces have “undermined their leadership significantly.” Of the network s 10 main leaders listed after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, only one is still alive: Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over after bin Laden was shot dead in a dramatic US commando raid in Pakistan in May. In the past year, eight of Al-Qaeda s top 20 leaders were eliminated, most by missiles fired from US drones operating under an expanded covert warfare effort launched by President Barack Obama after taking office in January 2009. Those killed include Awlaki, slain in Yemen in a US drone strike on September 30. Former CIA chief Panetta took over as defense secretary in July, replacing Robert Gates, a holdover from the presidency of George W. Bush.