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'AfPak Al Qaeda's top launching point for strikes'

March 28, 2012 15:30 IST

Afghanistan and Pakistan remains a number-one area as the launch point for strategic attacks from Al Qaeda terror network, a top Pentagon official said on Wednesday.

"The kinetic action has primarily focused in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and increasingly in the Horn of Africa as well as once in a while in Yemen -- in those three areas. So the primary interest for me for al-Qaeda has always been Pakistan," said Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict.

"Even when Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan prior to 9/11, they moved through Pakistan. So that remains a number-one area as the launch point for strategic attacks from Al Qaeda. But, increasingly," Sheehan said at a Congressional hearing.

Sheehan said that in implementing the counter-terrorism strategy, the US will continue to focus on Al Qaeda's activity originating from western Pakistan and the FATA.

"We've made great progress on this front, but Al Qaeda is a highly adaptive organisation. We must continue to work with Pakistan to address the threats emanating from this region," he said.

"Another important front against Al Qaeda is on the Arabian Peninsula which poses a direct threat to our interests and interests of our partners. We've made numerous important gains over the last year against AQAP but the group's capabilities and intent to conduct a terrorist attack against the US continue to represent a serious threat," he said.

In his prepared statement, Sheehan said the US has made progress in the past decade since the 9/11 in confronting Al Qaeda, its associated forces and its adherents.

"I see three primary reasons for our success in preventing another terrorist attack on US soil. First, we have taken down the Al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan," he said.

"Second, we have maintained constant pressure on the Al Qaeda network around the globe, including in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, crushing the ability of Al Qaeda to conduct strategic attacks.

"Lastly, we have built broad international cooperation by developing strong counterterrorism partnerships with countries around the globe," Sheehan said.

"We have ended our combat role in Iraq, and in Afghanistan we are transitioning increasing responsibility to the Afghan government and security forces," he said.

"What will not change is our focus on aggressively deterring, disrupting, dismantling, and defeating Al Qaeda and its associated forces and adherents around the world, while maintaining vigilance against other terrorist organisations that threaten or have the potential to threaten the United States and our allies," Sheehan said.

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