Shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden last year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that al-Qaeda’s defeat is “within reach.” While Panetta has since stressed that the terror group still remains a significant threat, particularly in light if its resurgence in Yemen, he said in an interview with Reuters that only a “small handful” of al-Qaeda leaders remain. “We’ve not only impacted on their leadership, we’ve impacted on their capability to provide any kind of command and control in terms of operations,” Panetta said.
He also said Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s top counter terrorism official, told him that bin Laden’s death has had a significant impact on al-Qaeda’s ability to recruit:
“I asked him the question — as a result of the bin Laden raid, as a result of what we’ve done to their leadership, where are we with al Qaeda,” Panetta recounted, adding that al Qaeda and bin Laden “came out of Saudi Arabia.”
“Bin Nayef said, ‘For the first time, what I’m seeing is that young people are no longer attracted to al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.’”
Panetta said that the U.S. will continue to go after al-Qaeda. “We’ll keep the pressure on at the top and we’ll keep going after their leadership,” Panetta said, adding, “But the real issue that will determine the end of al Qaeda is when they find it difficult to recruit any new people.”
Reuters notes that “[o]nly about eight hard-core al Qaeda leaders are still believed to be based in the lawless borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, compared with dozens a few years ago.”