July 9 - Leon Panetta on his first trip Afghanistan as Defense Secretary says he believes the strategic defeat of al Qaeda is within reach. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.
Newly confirmed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrives in Afghanistan Saturday. Ahead of his arrival, the former CIA chief said defeating al Qaeda was within reach. SOUNDBITE: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, saying (English): "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." He said the death of Osama bin Laden lays the groundwork for further assaults on al-Qaeda. SOUNDBITE: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, saying (English): "If we can go after them, I think we really can strategically defeat al Qaeda. We were at the point as a result of the operations that we conducted at the CIA as well, as you know, the other work that's been done. I think we had undermined their ability to conduct 9/11 type attacks. I think we had them on the run. I think 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 this country (the United States)." Panetta arrives in Afghanistan at a time when violence has flared after record deaths in 2010. In late June, the U.S. announced plans to begin withdrawing 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011, with all combat forces expected to leave by 2014. SOUNDBITE: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, saying (English): "I think the main job is going to be to not only continue the effort to go after the Taliban and their leadership, but to also develop a strong military force, an Afghanistan military, that can take that responsibility. I mean, we are, from everything I've seen, we've made good progress on that, but I think there's a lot more work to do of being able to transition responsibility to them. That's the key." Panetta also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, where the meeting focused on bilateral relations and the security transition. Deborah Lutterbeck, Reuters