NEW YORK, Sept. 6, 2011 — The terrorist attacks of a decade ago have in some ways strengthened the United States, and operations against al-Qaida have left it much less capable, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
“As tragic as 9/11 was, we have drawn tremendous inspiration [from it],” the secretary told reporters after touring the National September 11 Memorial and Museum site here.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, brought the nation together in a commitment that such horror “will never happen again,” Panetta said.
“Since 9/11, we have achieved significant success going after al-Qaida and … [its] leadership,” he said.
Of the top four al-Qaida leaders, three are dead, he said, and many lower-level leaders have been killed or captured.
“I think that has significantly undermined the command and control of al-Qaida, and their ability to plan the kind of 9/11 attacks that occurred here,” he said.
The nation’s domestic security is also stronger than it was 10 years ago, he said, crediting cooperation among intelligence organizations, the Department of Homeland Security and “a number of other agencies” with that improvement.
“Having said that, it’s very important for us to also pledge, not only to the families of those that died but to all Americans, that we will forever remain vigilant,” the secretary said.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½
The main threats emerging from al-Qaida now emanate from nodes such as those in Yemen and Somalia, he said.
“They continue to plan attacks, and I don’t think we can take anything for granted,” he said.
Yemen “has risen to the top of the list” of al-Qaida threats, and remains an important counter-terrorism focus for the United States, the secretary said.
The leader of al-Qaida in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, “has continued to urge individuals to attack this country, and continues, himself, to represent a threat to this country,” Panetta said.
On another front, Pakistani forces yesterday announced the capture of Younis al-Mauritani and two other senior al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan.
“This is … particularly encouraging, because we thought [Mauritani] was someone who was a real threat,” the secretary said.
Panetta said he is also encouraged by Pakistan’s role in the capture.
“We have had that kind of cooperation [from Pakistan] in the past,” he said. “We’ve had kind of a rocky relationship of late, but we have continued to urge the Pakistanis to work with us … [against] terrorist targets, and this is an indication that they are cooperating with us in that effort.”
Depsite gains made over the past decade, jihadist ideology remains an attraction to potential terrorists, and al-Qaida is still a threat to U.S. security, Panetta said.
“We have to continue the pressure on al-Qaida, but there is no question … [on] the tenth anniversary of 9/11, that we have made significant progress,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)