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 said.
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.
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 said.