Defeat of al-Qaeda remains top national security priority, says Panetta
To end the continuing threat from al-Qaida will require a modified military footprint, close work with allies and continued U.S. presence in volatile regions, said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
President Barack Obama recently conveyed to him that the goal that remains at the top of the Defense Department's priority list is "a responsibility to disrupt, degrade, dismantle and ultimately defeat those who attacked America on 9/11 -- al-Qaida," Panetta said Nov. 20 at a Center for a New American Security event in Washington.
Panetta identified other pressing national security challenges as follows:
- Implementing the new defense strategy.
- Meeting fiscal responsibilities.
- Countering nuclear proliferation.
- Improving cybersecurity.
- Achieving greater energy security.
- Putting in place the so-called Asia-Pacific rebalance.
- Taking care of service members, veterans and military families.
Panetta noted that prolonged military and intelligence operations have significantly weakened al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but that the terrorist group has found fertile ground from which to continue its operations in Yemen and Somalia.
In Yemen, the capabilities of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are growing, Panetta said. AQAP has targeted the United States for attack and sowed violence and chaos in Yemen itself, he said.
“We have struck back in an effort to disrupt and dismantle this group through a very close partnership with the government of Yemen … and the Yemenese themselves,” Panetta said.
In Somalia, against the militant group al-Shaabab, progress also has been made, he said. The progress against al-Qaeda in Somalia has been acheived “in large part because of an effective partnership between the United States and the African Union Mission in Somalia," Panetta said.
William Welsh is the managing editor of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @WilliamWelsh12.