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Al-Qaida Senior Leadership Nearly Eradicated: Panetta

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, shown on Friday, on Thursday said only a "small handful" of top al-Qaeda members continue to elude U.S. and allied forces (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin). U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, shown on Friday, on Thursday said only a "small handful" of top al-Qaeda members continue to elude U.S. and allied forces (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin).

The number of senior al-Qaida members that have escaped targeting by the United States and its allies has been reduced to just a " small handful," U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a Thursday interview with Reuters (see GSN, June 20).

Last year, Panetta said al-Qaida would be effectively defeated if as many as 20 commanders of the sprawling terrorist network were taken out either through detention or death. Since those were remarks were made, the U.S. list of al-Qaida members left for targeting has been drastically reduced, Panetta said.

"We've not only impacted their leadership, we've impacted on their capability to provide any kind of command and control in terms of operations," according to the Pentagon chief.

Saudi Arabia has also found that fewer new members are joining the group, said Panetta, who during a visit to the Gulf country this week spoke with the Saudi government's head of operations against al-Qaida -- Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

"I asked him the question -- as a result of the [2011 killing of Osama bin Laden], as a result of what we've done to their leadership, where are we with al-Qaida," Panetta recalled.

"Bin Nayef said, 'For the first time, what I'm seeing is that young people are no longer attracted to al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia,'" Panetta quoted the Saudi prince as saying.

The defense chief would not say which top al-Qaida commanders have yet to be captured or killed. One obvious target, group leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, is understood to still be operating somewhere along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Panetta vowed the United States would "keep the pressure on at the top and we'll keep going after their leadership."

"But the real issue that will determine the end of al-Qaida is when they find it difficult to recruit any new people," he continued (Phil Stewart, Reuters, June 22).

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