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US safer from 9/11 kind of attacks: Panetta

January 16, 2013 14:19 IST

America is safer today from the 9/11 type of attacks because of the persistent actions taken by the United States against terrorists in the Af-Pak region in the last four years, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said, while warning that al-Qaeda still remains a threat.

"I believe strongly that as a result of the efforts by the United States, particularly our intelligence and military personnel, that as a result of strong efforts to go after the leadership of Al Qaeda, particularly in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) in Pakistan, that we have significantly weakened al Qaeda's leadership capabilities, their command-and-control, and their ability to put together the kind of attack that we saw on 9/11," Panetta said.

"So I honestly believe that, after four years, America is safer from that kind of attack that we experienced on 9/11," he said at a press conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

Panetta is currently on a week-long trip to four European countries -- Portugal, Britain, Spain and Italy.

"Having said that, al-Qaeda still remains a threat. And they have relocated in other parts of the world. We know they have a presence in Yemen. We know they have a presence in Somalia. We know they have a presence in Iraq.  And obviously, they have a presence with AQIM in North Africa," he said.

"We are continuing to go after al-Qaeda in these areas. We have had successful efforts to weaken Al-Qaeda in Yemen, and we are continuing those operations, working with the country of Yemen to conduct those operations that I think have seriously weakened AQAP, the al-Qaeda version in Yemen," he said.

"We have been very successful, I believe, as well, in the efforts to go after al-Qaeda in Somalia. Al-Shabaab, which represented a real threat there, you know, they're still there, but the fact is that Somalia has been greatly strengthened in terms of its ability to stop Al-Shabaab and to stop the growth of terrorism there," Panetta said but quickly noted the "job is not finished" yet.

"We have to continue the effort to go after Al-Qaeda in Iraq. We have to continue the effort to go after al Qaeda where it decides to locate. There's an al Qaeda presence in Syria that concerns us. And there is the AQIM version of Al Qaeda in Mali. It is for that reason that we are supporting the French in their effort to try to make sure that we not only stop their advances, but that we weaken their ability to locate a base of operations there," Panetta said.

"The fact is that the war on terrorism continues. We have made good progress. We have undermined their ability to conduct the kind of attacks that they would like to conduct. But the war on terrorism continues," he said.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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