Panetta: al-Qaida Weakened, But Still Poses Threat

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.����

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)