Panetta: Osama bin Laden influence continues
April 2nd, 2012
01:32 PM ET

Panetta: Osama bin Laden influence continues

By Adam Levine

Osama bin Laden continues to assert an "almost spiritual leadership," even after his death, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in an interview with CBC over the weekend.

Materials seized from the Pakistan compound where bin Laden was found suggest bin Laden was pushing for further attacks on the United States and other countries, Panetta told Peter Mansbridge in an interview aired over the weekend on CBC's "Mansbridge One on One" and on CBC's newscast "The National."

U.S. pressure on al Qaeda in Pakistan makes it difficult for the organization to function effectively there, but the terror group has spread to other countries and continues to be a concern, Panetta said.

Here's an excerpt from the interview:

Panetta: I think there's no question he continues to assert that kind of almost spiritual leadership that he had, and people continued to refer to that. He continued to try to assert that and did. One of the things we found by going through the material at Abbottabad, the compound he had there, is that he was continuing to make efforts, continuing to work with his leadership to be able to conduct further attacks.

And so he was clearly committed to that goal, and the very fact that he was the individual that put together the 9/11 attack, I think made very clear that he was someone we absolutely had to go after, we had to get, and that the key to undermining al Qaeda and to undermining their effort to continue that effort was in large measure going to be getting rid of bin Laden.

Mansbridge: So his leadership was beyond spiritual. He still had direct connection through his people.

Panetta: Oh, yes. He was still working through couriers to get his message across. Matter of fact, it was the couriers that ultimately led us to the compound. But he was continuing to use them in order to be able to get his message out and in order to be able to communicate with the other leaders within al Qaeda.

Mansbridge: But was al Qaeda still, and is still now, a significant force at that time? Because we were getting used to being told that, you know, it's a spent force.

Panetta: There's no question that we have been very successful at going after their leadership, not only bin Laden but we've gone after a number of their other key leaders, and we made it very difficult for them to put any kind of command and control together or to put together the kind of plan that was involved in the attack on 9/11. Having said that, they continue to be a threat. Continue to be a threat not just in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), in Pakistan. They continue to be a threat in Yemen and Somalia and in North Africa, and so for that reason we just can't stop continuing to put pressure on them to make sure that they never again have the opportunity to attack our country.

In the interview, Panetta also said there is also no evidence that Pakistani leadership had any direct connection to the al Qaeda leader, saying that the "bottom line is that we have not had evidence that provides that direct link."

The Pakistani government is currently debating how to formulate its ongoing relationship with the U.S. after a series of incidents that heightened anger and mistrust of America, including the bin Laden raid and a border strike by U.S. and NATO troops that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Various government officials and members of Parliament have called for a complete cessation of the drone program.

The U.S. has offered to adjust its drone program, Security Clearance's Pam Benson reported last week, which has continued even though other areas of cooperation between the two countries has ground to a halt.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would not comment on the offer when she was asked this weekend by CNN's Jill Dougherty but did say the U.S. would never handcuff its terror fighting in any agreement with another country.

"But I can assure you that the Obama administration will not enter into any agreement that would be to the detriment of the national security of our country," Clinton said in the CNN interview. "I think this president has demonstrated conclusively that he's ready to take the tough decisions when America's security is at stake."

Panetta told the CBC that the cooperation on fighting terrorism is essential not just for routing out al Qaeda but also for peace in neighbouring Afghanistan. Panetta said Pakistan has continued to conduct its own counterterrorism operations and there is progress in getting the relationship back on track.

"It's a complex relationship. We've been through our ups and downs. We're actually in a period now, after coming out of a couple of incidents, where I think they're interested and we're interested in trying to put this back on track" Panetta said in the interview.  "And as a result of that actually I think we're making some progress, trying to re-open the blocks, the portals for our supplies. We're making some good progress with regards to cross-border operations. They are taking some steps to go after terrorists."

There have been recent high level meetings between the two countries, including President Barack Obama's meeting with Pakistan's president in Seoul in March, and top U.S. military officials who went to Islamabad for meetings for the first time since the border attack incident at the end of 2011.

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Al Qaeda • Living With Terror • Military • Osama bin Laden • Pakistan • Panetta • Terrorism
soundoff (17 Responses)
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  3. Spelunker4Plato

    Of course he asserts spiritual leadership. Millions of americans are religious fanatics that believe he and al-Qwayda were responsible for 9/11 despite the obvious lack of wing damage on the Pentagon and obvious controlled demolitions.

    April 9, 2012 at 3:24 am | Reply
  4. Skorpio

    It is ISLAM' INFLUENCE not Osama's influence the main culprit. Unless Muslims convert to any other religion except Islam, any other jihadist or radical Muslim' influence will take over and the violence, terrorism, hatred and discrimination will persist. Islam is the root of all evil and it should be eliminated.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:33 am | Reply
  5. Adil

    Well, If Al-Qaeda continues to be a threat not just in FATA Pakistan but other Countries such as Yemen, Somalia and North Africa then why doesn't your government start drone attacks there? I think Pakistan and it's "innocent civilians" are getting more then their fair share of drone attacks. And don't debate about how productive they are because they are much much much less productive then they should be. And Mr Panetta, I have a question. What If a border strike from Pakistan had killed 24 US soldiers or NATO soldiers? Would you let us react the same way your government did? We still await an honest, heartfelt apology from YOUR PRESIDENT, YOU AND THE REST. And EVERY PRESIDENT of yours takes a tough decision. They're tough for your presidents but the worst for civilians almost all over the world.

    P.s your good work will never be over looked. May you fight and win against these terrorists. May all of them burn in hell or by your ammunitions in this world. All I'm saying is that there's a fair way of conducting all this.

    Just to avenge the lives of a few thousand "innocent civilians" of the 9/11 incident, your Country and it's governments have made the world go upside down and killed millions of "innocent civilians" all over the world. Just try to calculate the ratio of "innocent civilians" killed against the terrorists killed. All over the world. You'll understand how productive you've been.

    A well wisher and a critic.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:47 am | Reply
    • Rob from New York

      Hi Adil:

      I know that you, and most people around the world think that we're the world police, that we alone are responsible for taming the lawlessness in your own countries and in many Arab and African nations. I wonder why. After all, we would catch, prosecute, convict and punish any extremist who tried to attack you from our shores or any US lands. It is truly a pity that we cannot expect other nations, Pakistan included, to enforce anything approaching the rule of law in their own countries. Instead, Pakistan let Osama Bin Laden, the head murderer of thousands of innocent civilians in downtown New York City, live out his peaceful and protected existence inside a garrison city in Pakistan. Pakistan's failure to control its own "tribal areas" and murderous criminal militants that live in Pakistan and launch cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, and train other terrorists to murder civilians all over the world means that we must fight them. However, we are not permitted to invade or create any significant footprint in Pakistan – so just what other alternative do we have ? And what exactly is the standard that you're applying to us ? After all, Syria has purposely killed some 10,000 of their own civilians just for protesting. The collateral damage we cause is not intended – in fact, we are using the least intrusive and best technology to try to minimize civilian casualties – that cannot be said even for Pakistani forces who were fighting in the tribal areas, who used mortars and helicopters to level entire villages and killed lots of civilians. So, instead of criticizing us, why don't you ask your own government why they are not enforcing the rule of law in your country and stopping people under their jurisdiction and control from killing innocent civilians in other countries so the US and other countries do not have to. Maybe you will get an answer – or maybe your government will just make you disappear, or they will tip off the militants and the militants will cut off your head.

      April 3, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
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    For once in your history, stop being the only country on planet earth (there are 196 of them) that always vetoes UN resolution or boycotts UN condemnation of Israel.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:15 am | Reply
  7. Selfdestructo

    Yes.I've met albanian who worships Bin Laden like a God.He lives in Italy and is plotting some nefarious deed.

    April 3, 2012 at 12:54 am | Reply
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    ill support Israel or zionist at all costs

    April 2, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Reply
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    April 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Reply
  11. david

    Stop supporting Israeli aggression.

    Research israels crimes against humanity.

    April 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Reply
    • jon

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      April 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Reply

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