Sunday, July 10, 2011

Al-Qaida's end could be near, officials say

Pakistan must go after al Zawahiri: Panetta

KABUL: United States Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has asked Pakistan to go after al Qaeda’s new chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in particular, who, he said, was likely living in the country’s northwestern tribal areas.

“He’s one of those we would like to see the Pakistanis target,” said Panetta on Saturday, as he arrived on a surprise first visit to Afghanistan in his new role as United States defence secretary.
“We have to continue to emphasise with the Pakistanis that in the end it’s in their interest to be able to go after these targets as well. They’ve given us some cooperation, they’re going after some of these targets. We’ve got to continue to push them to do that,” Panetta said, adding, “The strategic defeat of al Qaeda is within reach.”
Former CIA chief Panetta, who took office on July 1 to replace Robert Gates, arrived in Kabul for a trip to include talks with President Hamid Karzai over the transition of some NATO-held areas to Afghan control starting mid-July.
US President Barack Obama has announced that 10,000 US forces will leave Afghanistan this year and another 23,000 by the end of September in 2012, ahead of a full withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014.
Before his arrival, Panetta told travelling media that since the May night raid by US forces in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, 10-20 key al Qaeda targets had been identified between Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and north Africa.
“If we can go after them, I think we really can strategically defeat al Qaeda,” said Panetta, who leads the Pentagon after two years as head of the CIA.
“Obviously, we made an important start with that with getting rid of bin Laden. I was convinced in my prior capacity and I’m convinced in this capacity that we’re within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda.”
“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,” he said.
US-led coalition forces have been fighting a Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan since their invasion in late 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks orchestrated by bin Laden.
Panetta said that the near 10-year war in Afghanistan that has led to the deaths of 1,658 US troops so far and costs the US about $10 billion every month had been successful in defeating part of the militant network.More...

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