America's new intelligence chief David Petraeus has predicted that Al Qaeda leaders may flee Afghanistan and the entire south Asia as they were being pressed hard by American forces.
In his first week on the new job as the Central Intelligence Agency chief, Petraeus said that within 18-24 months, the core of the al-Qaeda could be degraded to the point that the group will fragment and exist mostly as a propaganda arm.
Making his first Congressional appearance as a civilian at the rare joint hearing by the Joint Intelligence Committee of the House and Senate, the former American military commander in Afghanistan said, "Heavy losses to Al Qaeda's senior leadership appears to have created an important window of vulnerability for the core of the grouping in Pakistan and Afghanistan," CNN reported.
He told the Congressional Committee that United States will need a "sustained, focused effort" to exploit the opportunity. The CIA chief said that eight of the Al Qaeda's top 20 leaders were killed this year alone, chief among them been their supremo Osama bin Laden.
Al Qaeda leaders may even flee Afghanistan or leave south Asia altogether to escape the CIA, which has quadrupled the covert drone strikes against militant groups based in Pakistan's restive tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
Petraeus called bin Laden's long time deputy and successor Ayman al Zawahiri a "less compelling" leader who will have more difficulty than bin Laden in "maintaining the group's cohesion and its collective motivation in the face of continued pressure."