Panetta: 'Maybe 50 to 100' al Qaeda left in Afghanistan

CIA Director Leon Panetta said Sunday morning that Al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan has become weakened to the point where it is now "relatively small," with perhaps even fewer than 100 members now in the country.

"I think at most, we're looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less," Panetta told ABC's Jake Tapper, adding that "there's no question that the main location of Al Qaeda is in tribal areas of Pakistan."

Panetta made the remarks in a wide-ranging interview on ABC's "This Week," his first appearance on a Sunday morning news program since President Obama named him CIA director in January 2009. The interview comes days after Obama selected Gen. David H. Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan following disparaging remarks made by McChrystal in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

The troop presence in Afghanistan currently stands at about 100,000 U.S. troops and 40,000 from other countries. There have been 1,124 American military deaths in Afghanistan since 2001.

Panetta said there's "no question" that the Taliban "is engaged in greater violence right now" than when Obama took office.

"In some ways, they are stronger, but in some ways, they are weaker as well," he said, noting that the U.S. is "undermining their leadership, and that I think is moving in the right direction."

But as a result of the pressure put on Al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan's tribal areas, Panetta said, the leadership of al Qaeda is "probably at its weakest point since 9/11 and their escape from Afghanistan into Pakistan."

Panetta said that Osama bin Laden is in "the tribal areas in Pakistan," where the terrain is "probably the most difficult in the world." The U.S. has not had "precise" information on bin Laden's whereabouts since "the early 2000s," Panetta added.

"Since then, it's been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location," he said.

Asked to describe what winning in Afghanistan would look like, Panetta responded, "Winning in Afghanistan is having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safe haven for Al Qaeda or for a militant Taliban that welcomes Al Qaeda."

Panetta also defended the CIA's actions in the region, asserting that "there is no question that we are abiding by international law and the law of war." (6.27.2010)


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