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Defense Secretary Panetta believes U.S. close to defeating al-Qaeda

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said he believes the United States “is within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaida.”

Panetta, who arrived in Afghanistan this afternoon, said the United States has identified some of the key al-Qaida leadership in Pakistan, Yemen and other areas.

“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,” the secretary said to press traveling with him. “It’s within reach. Is it going to take more work? You bet it is.”

He explained his reasoning saying there are between 10 to 20 key al-Qaida leaders in areas like Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and North Africa and tracking them down would mean the defeat of the terror organization.

“We have undermined their ability to conduct 9-11-type attacks,” he 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 said al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is most likely in hiding in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area.

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