source: Reuters July 2, 2010
It has been years since the United States has had good intelligence on the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin laden, although he is thought to be in Pakistan, CIA director Leon Panetta said on Sunday.
He also gave a sobering account of the war in Afghanistan, saying the Taliban seemed to be strengthening with a stepped-up campaign of violence, even as U.S.-led forces undermine the Islamist movement with attacks on its leadership.
Progress is being made in the nearly nine-year-old conflict but “it’s harder, it’s slower than I think anyone anticipated,” Panetta said on ABC’s “This Week” program. He did not directly answer a question about whether the war was being won.
A harsh spotlight was thrown on the U.S. strategy last week when President Barack Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal as his top commander in Afghanistan and replaced him with General David Petraeus.
Now U.S. lawmakers from both parties are demanding more answers about the war’s progress. Some will be putting these questions to Petraeus at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
Not since “the early 2000s” have U.S. officials had “the last precise information about where he (bin Laden) might be located,” Panetta said.
“Since then, it’s been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location,” Panetta said. “He is, as is obvious, in very deep hiding … He’s in an area of the tribal areas of Pakistan.”
Denying the world’s most wanted man safe haven on the lawless Afghanistan-Pakistan border has been an aim of Western policy since the September 11 attacks in 2001, when the Taliban in effect spurned a U.S. demand to hand over the al Qaeda chief