Video: Panetta’s bombshell on Afghan trip

  1. Closed captioning of: Panetta’s bombshell on Afghan trip

    >>> turning overseas, nato officials say an american soldier and a civilian were killed in afghanistan today by an afghan guard following an argument. the deaths came as the new u.s. defense secretary began his first visit to afghanistan where he offered a new assessment of al qaeda . nbc's pentagon correspondent jim miklacieski is traveling with him.

    >> reporter: it was on the flight over when he dropped the bombshell on al qaeda .

    >> we're within reach of strategically defeating al qaeda .

    >> reporter: panetta said the killing of osama bin laden by u.s. commandos two months ago and in an increasingly intense campaign of predator air strikes aimed at top terrorist leaders has staggered al qaeda .

    >> i think we had undermined their ability to conduct 9/11-type attacks. i think we had them on the run.

    >> reporter: in kabul general david petraeus agreed.

    >> al qaeda 's senior leadership is less capable of threatening.

    >> reporter: intelligence indicates al qaeda 's new leader is holed up in the tribal regions of western pakistan. he also revealed that up to 20 top al qaeda leaders from pakistan, yemen , and somalia were identified from intelligence found in bin laden 's compound and are now on america's target list. topping that list, american-born cleric anwar, leader of al qaeda in yemen , considered the greatest terrorist threat to the united states . the so-called christmas day bomber was trained and equipped by al qaeda in yemen . panetta confirmed today that the cia has joined the u.s. military in launching air strikes aimed at taking on the leadership of al qaeda in yemen and warned the u.s. must rere-main relentless in pursuit of al qaeda . zoob i think now is the moment, 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 .

    >> reporter: despite the progress, panetta warns that al qaeda still remains a serious threat, and even after his success at the cia in bringing down bin laden , panetta says that al qaeda itself will still be a top priority of his in his new job at the pentagon. lester.

    >> jim miklaszewski in kabul tonight.

Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/9/2011 10:54:33 AM ET 2011-07-09T14:54:33

In his first news conference as secretary of defense, Leon Panetta declared Saturday that al-Qaida may be on the verge of defeat and its days as a terrorist organization may be numbered.

"We're within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaida," Panetta told reporters traveling with him as he flew in to Afghanistan.

At 40,000 feet aboard a U.S. Air Force E-4B — commonly known as the "Doomsday Plane" — Panetta said the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Operations Forces had staggered al-Qaida.

Panetta, who was director of the CIA at the time, also said the treasure trove of intelligence collected in the May 2 raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, had revealed the names of up to 20 al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and central Africa.

Video: Panetta: Al-Qaida 'on the run' (on this page)

He also revealed that U.S. intelligence believes that the new head of al-Qaida, the former number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is hiding in Pakistan's FATA region, a largely ungoverned tribal area in western Pakistan.

Story: Source: Afghan guard shoots dead 2 US troops

Panetta said al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, which is led by the radical American-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, was considered the most serious al-Qaida terrorist threat against the United States.

'Now is the moment'
But Panetta believes al-Qaida may be more vulnerable now than ever.

"I think we have undermined their ability to conduct 9/11 type attacks. I think we have them on the run," Panetta declared, citing the success of CIA and U.S. military airstrikes and covert operations.

Story: Terrorists Look to Implant Bombs in Humans

"I believe now is the moment. Now is the moment to put maximum pressure on them because I do believe if we continue this effort, we can really cripple al-Qaida," he added, signaling what may be an increased U.S. military and CIA campaign against the terrorist network.

When Panetta was sworn in as defense secretary on July 1, he warned that President Barack Obama's call on the Defense Department to come up with $400 billion in reductions over 12 years to help cut the deficit and government debt would be a challenge.

Story: Deadly night raids hurt Taliban, but anger Afghans

Panetta, in a message to U.S. forces around the world, said that would "require us all to be disciplined in how we manage taxpayer resources," Reuters reported.

"While tough budget choices will need to be made, I do not believe in the false choice between fiscal discipline and a strong national defense. We will all work together to achieve both," Panetta said.

Story: 3 NATO troops die; 6 abducted Afghans killed

He promised to keep the U.S. military the strongest in the world, despite the fiscal pressures.

"There will be no hollow force on my watch," he said in his message to U.S. forces.

About a third of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan will be withdrawn by next summer, a faster timetable than U.S. military commanders had recommended.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: The compound

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  1. Pakistani boys while demolition takes place on the compound where Osama bin Laden was slain in 2011 in the northwestern town of Abbottabad on Feb. 26, 2012.

    More photos from Abbottabad one year after Osama bin Laden (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An aerial view shows the residential area of Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. commandos. (Asif Hassan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A general view of the town of Abbottabad, May 6. Bin Laden was living in a large house close to a military academy in this garrison town, a two-and-a-half hour-drive from the capital, Islamabad. (Khaqan Khawer / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami rally to condemn the killing of bin Laden, in Abbottabad on May 6. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A Pakistani woman photographs her daughter on May , at a gate of the compound where bin Laden was caught and killed. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. School girls pass by armed Pakistani policemen guarding the sealed entrance to the compound in Abbottabad, May 5, in which bin Laden had been living. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Part of a damaged helicopter rests in the compound after U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed bin Laden, May 2, in a photo made available on May 4. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Boys herd sheep past the compound where U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad May 5. (Akhtar Soomro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pakistani security officials arrive at the Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad on Wednesday, May 4. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Local residents gather outside a burned section of bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A Pakistani police officer gestures at a checkpoint along a road leading to a house where bin Laden was captured and killed in Abbottabad. Area residents were still confused and suspicious about bin Laden's death, which took place before dawn on Monday. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pakistani children look out from a high vantage point at bin Laden's compound on Tuesday, May 3. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Pakistan army troops remove canvas screens from outside the compound's house. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Neighbors and news media gather around the compound, right, after authorities ease security around the property. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A satellite image, taken June 15, 2005, shows the Abbottabad compound, center, where bin Laden was killed in on Monday. (DigitalGlobe via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A Pakistani soldier secures the compound. (T. Mughal / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The compound is seen in flames after it was attacked early May 2 in this still image taken from cellphone video footage. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Part of a damaged U.S. MH-60 helicopter lies the compound. The helicopter was destroyed by U.S. forces after a mechanical failure left it unable to take off. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A still image from video obtained by ABC News shows blood stains in the interior of the house where bin Laden was killed. (ABC News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Aerial views released by the Department of Defense show the area in Abbottabad in 2004, left, before the house was built, and in 2011, right. (Department of Defense via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A graphic released by the Department of Defense shows the compound where bin Laden was killed. (Department of Defense via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Pakistani soldiers and police officers patrol near the house, background, where bin Laden had lived. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. The hideout of bin Laden is seen the day after his death. (Farooq Naeem / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Students look toward the compound from a nearby religious school in Abbottabad. (Faisal Mahmood / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Pakistani security officials survey the walls of the compound where bin Laden was killed. The outer walls were between 10 and 18 feet high. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Pakistani soldiers stand guard near the compound May 2. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Boys collect pieces of metal from a wheat field outside bin Laden's house, seen in the background, on May 3. People showed off small parts of what appeared to be a U.S. helicopter that the U.S. says malfunctioned and was blown up by the American team as it retreated. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Pakistani security officials stand guard at the main entrance to the compound on May 3. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. An image from video seized from the walled compound of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, and released by the U.S. Department of Defense, shows Osama bin Laden watching TV. He is said to have spent his last weeks in a house divided, amid wives riven by suspicions. On the top floor, sharing his bedroom, was his youngest wife and favorite. The trouble came when his eldest wife showed up and moved into the bedroom on the floor below. (Department of Defense via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
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    Above: Slideshow (29) After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound - The compound
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    Slideshow (81) After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound - World reaction

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