Washington: Al-Qaeda still represents the most important threat the United States faces across the world, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday.
"We have significantly weakened their ability to do the kind of command and control and planning that would be necessary to conduct another 9/11 attack. At the same time, they still continue to threaten our country. And they still represent, I think, probably the most important threat we still face in the world," he told the CNN.
Panetta, who just finished his unannounced trip to Afghanistan, said the US would continue to target al-Qaeda and its network.
"We've got to go after al-Qaeda, wherever the hell they're at, and make sure they find no place to hide. Because let's not forget, the main goal of al-Qaeda is to attack the United States and we're not going to allow that to happen again. If we're not going to allow it to happen, we've got to go after them in Yemen, in Somalia and yes, in Mali if necessary," he said.
The US, he said, is on its way to achieve its mission of defeating and deterring al-Qaeda.
"We continue to face al-Qaeda, obviously, elsewhere, not only in Pakistan, but in Yemen and Somalia and elsewhere. But, you know, we have had remarkable success going after special operations against al Qaeda here and we're continuing to do that," he said.
"I think, you know, the main challenge here is, obviously, to make sure there's no safe haven for al-Qaeda, in which to conduct attacks, but the key to that is in Afghanistan. That can secure and govern itself. Those two are interlocked in terms of the mission that we have in Afghanistan," he added.