Al-Qaeda, lately without its late leader Osama bin Laden, is on the ropes and defeat of the terror group is "within reach," Leon Panetta said today. En route to his first trip to Afghanistan since taking office, the new defense secretary told reporters that intelligence from Abbottabad indicated that the US campaign against al-Qaeda had whittled it to some 20 leaders. "Now is the moment, following what happened with bin Laden, to put maximum pressure on them," said Panetta. "Because I do believe that if we continue this effort that we can really cripple al-Qaeda as a threat to (the United States)."
At the top of Panetta's list is Ayman al-Zawahri, who took the al-Qaeda reins after bin Laden's death, reports Reuters. Zawahri is believed to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas, Panetta says, and "he's one of those we would like to see the Pakistanis target." That could be dicey given frosty US-Pakistan relations in the wake of the bin Laden hit, notes the Los Angeles Times. Panetta continues to push his case with Pakistan, but says the US faces its most dire threat in Yemen. "There's no question that when you look at what constitutes the biggest threat in terms of attacks on the United States, more of that comes from Yemen and from people like (Anwar al-Awlaki)," Panetta said, adding that both the Defense Department and CIA are "going after those targets." (Read more Leon Panetta stories.)