Zawahiri in Pakistan’s tribal areas: Panetta

Published: July 10, 2011
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The "strategic defeat" of al Qaeda is "within reach", US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Saturday as he arrived on a surprise visit to Afghanistan as the US prepares a gradual drawdown of troops. PHOTO: AFP

The "strategic defeat" of al Qaeda is "within reach", US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Saturday as he arrived on a surprise visit to Afghanistan as the US prepares a gradual drawdown of troops. PHOTO: AFP

KABUL: 

New US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Saturday that 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, including the head of al Qaeda Ayman al Zawahiri – who,  he believed, was living in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Panetta, on his first trip to Afghanistan since taking over at the Pentagon on July 1, told reporters before arriving in Kabul that now was the time — in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden in May — to intensify efforts to target al Qaeda’s leadership.

Panetta declined to divulge all the names of the ‘20 leaders’, but he singled out two men: Anwar al Awlaki, an American imam who has become a senior leader of al Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate, and Ayman al Zawahiri, who replaced Bin Laden as the head of al Qaeda.

Panetta said he believed Zawahiri 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 between Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, AQIM (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in North Africa. If we can go after them, I think we really can strategically defeat al Qaeda,” he said.

Panetta added that the US military and the CIA were engaged in a number of operations focusing on militants in Yemen. He did not give specifics.

“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).”

General David Petraeus, who will take over the CIA’s top job in September, told reporters that he agreed with Panetta’s assessment that strategic defeat of al Qaeda was possible.

“There may be elements of al Qaeda around for some time, and the brand will be out there. The question is whether they can effectively plan and execute strategic attacks,” said Petraeus, the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan.

Better ties with Karzai?

Panetta’s first trip to Afghanistan as defence secretary comes at a time of growing impatience in the United States with the nearly decade-old war, even as President Barack Obama pushes ahead with plans for a faster-than-expected drawdown.

Critics say the US war strategy is undermined partly by Pakistan’s failure to go after militants.

Panetta acknowledged Pakistani cooperation in going after some militants but added “we’ve got to continue to push (the Pakistanis) to do that”. “That’s the key,” Panetta said.

A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned that al Qaeda leaders including Bin Laden had long considered setting up safehaven in parts of Afghanistan if the pressure in Pakistan grew too great—a potential threat that still existed. There are only about 50-100 members of al Qaeda currently believed to be in Afghanistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Jul 9, 2011 - 7:52PM

    How do you defeat a mindset with force? Panetta knows where America stands after a decade into the war.

    Bin Laden’s death means nothing. They’d never acknowledge it though.

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  • parvez
    Jul 9, 2011 - 11:22PM

    If they know al-Zawahiri is in FATA they should ‘ take him out ‘ like they did Bin Laden.
    At best we will make a noise and then keep quiet.

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  • Mirza
    Jul 10, 2011 - 1:45AM

    Leon is an ex-congressman and a sharp politician. He would do what is best for his country. The dormant Al-Qaida is not an active direct threat to the US. Whenever the US would be sure they are going to take out the terrorists. Do they care about what other countries think? Even the veto powers like China (our friend and good country) and Russia never vetoed any military action of the US. That includes the two invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, and now Libya. Like Pakistan army generals these countries talk tough but when it comes to the US Security Council they chicken out and not veto it.

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  • Raj
    Jul 10, 2011 - 9:53AM

    Pakistan needs to address the trust deficit in the eyes of the West in general and USA in particular.

    Recommend

  • Bilafond
    Jul 10, 2011 - 11:14AM

    Americans are not interested in Al Qaeda really. They have got the head. Their interest is to contain China, keep threatening Iran. Iraq is already there with their foot well inside. Keep rest of the Middle East simmering so much that the OIL keeps flowing. When Syria, Libya and the rest are in total control, it will be in the end Saudia Arabia from where the 9/11 bombers came from.This is no secret. As far Pakistan is concerned with the present government all they need is to promise DOLLARS and then stop its flow; all will be well.

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  • Khalid Rahim
    Jul 10, 2011 - 11:52AM

    Our blood must be spilt to feed the vermins hatched by the very force the speaks with the forked- tongue. Just as they took their time to bring our nation to this situation where we are
    more concerned with our Ego and finding ways and means to protect it against the Power of Reasoning? The new leadership of Al Qaeda will be used thoroughly against us to the point where we lose our senses completely and sacrifice our Will to be a nation no more, to
    watch ourselves being divided ethnically and become Servile to the whims of those who rule
    over us from the shores of Potamac.

    Recommend

  • Ray of Hope
    Jul 10, 2011 - 12:02PM

    Now, from CIA Chief to Secretary Defense, Leon Panetta wants to prove his worth as Defense Secretary. They are throwing dust in the eyes of the people. They can prove that every criminal and terrorist is hiding in Pakistan, what a pity and shame. The cannot prove that Osama had been living in Abbottabad even.

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  • ISLAM
    Jul 10, 2011 - 12:03PM

    NO wonder such remarks are coming to pressurize pakistan army into taking action agaisnt haqqani network. But if pak take action agaisnt haqqani networks than who will defend the borders of pakistan..

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  • Incredible
    Jul 10, 2011 - 1:20PM

    @Miza

    China (our friend and good country). Rubbish. You have been selling your land to them to maintain an ‘all weather firend’.

    Recommend

  • R S JOHAR
    Jul 10, 2011 - 1:37PM

    The US Defence Secretary’s statement should be treated as a warning and Pakistan in its own interest must co-operate and hand-over the Al-Qaida chief and others or face Abbotabad like raids in the near future.

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  • American
    Jul 10, 2011 - 2:20PM

    For Security of our country and our citizen , we will do anything, no compromise.

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  • Z.Piracha
    Jul 10, 2011 - 3:36PM

    IF Americans know Alzawari hiding in Pakistan and where as they knew of OsamA ;why do not they coordinate with Pakistan government? But they would not to keep their presence in Pakistan and meet its regional agenda through toadies as PPP-Z.

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  • G. Din
    Jul 10, 2011 - 4:41PM

    @Z.Piracha:
    “…why do not they coordinate with Pakistan government? “
    Those days are gone forever. Pakistan has lost it completely. It will never be trusted again. You have established your reputation, to friend and foe alike, that you are untrustworthy, unreliable, undependable, double-crossing, double-dealing, shortchanging partners. You take the money with both hands and deliver nothing in return. As they say, a wise enemy is far better than a so-called “friend” holding a dagger to your back!

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  • BruteForce
    Jul 10, 2011 - 6:44PM

    There is a joke going around in India that all the Americans had to do to find Osama was to ask the Indians. Any Indian with a sane mind could have easily told them OBL was hiding in one of the Pakistani cities! Same with Zawahiri.

    Recommend

  • john
    Jul 10, 2011 - 7:13PM

    No.. panetta is wrong.. US must search zawahiri in zardari’s presidential palace.. There is a good chance zawahiri could be having tea and kebab with zardari..

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  • Cautious
    Jul 10, 2011 - 7:28PM

    Sounds like the USA is laying the groundwork for another special operation – perhaps a polite way of suggesting that Pakistan handle this problem or else they will.

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  • Coma Cat
    Jul 10, 2011 - 8:24PM

    “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.

    Yes, by supplying them super high tech weaponry and tactical air support in Libya. Stop lying, the world’s onto you.

    Though seriously, we need to discard the irrational Indian fear and realise that we need to ally with them to get this meddling imperialistic parasite out of South Asia (and hopefully the rest of the world) once and for all.Recommend

  • G. Din
    Jul 11, 2011 - 4:28PM

    @Coma Cat:
    “…we need to discard the irrational Indian fear and realise that we need to ally with them to get this meddling imperialistic parasite out of South Asia (and hopefully the rest of the world) once and for all.”
    It is always expedience with you, forever running from one to the other in the hope of undercutting everyone at some point in the future, isn’t it? You are like a mutt which follows anyone who will let it, to his home. When this mutt has made an enough nuisance of itself, it gets thrown out. Now, it is time to find another sucker to follow to his home. And, so on. First it was America, then it was/is China and now you think that you should ensnare India. You have tried to use or are planning to use them for your own shallow, selfish aims of the moment. When will Pakistan acquire a modicum of self-respect (“khudi”)? Until that happens, you will never learn the art of mutual respect. Without mutual respect, there is no foundation of a relationship with anyone. Without any relationships, you will continue to flounder. Don’t look up to anyone of your neighours be it India, Iran or Afghanistan to sucker next. We all know you all too well!

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  • ontheborder
    Jul 12, 2011 - 2:49AM

    Trust is very hard to win and very volatile to loose.

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