Washington: US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday said the daring operation to kill Osama bin Laden at his Abbottabad safe house in Pakistan was very risky as the al- Qaeda chief's presence there was not 100 per cent confirmed. As Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Panetta played a leading role in the finding and killing of bin Laden. Subsequently he was made the Defense Secretary by President Barack Obama.
"What I saw... was a very professional intelligence operation that was able to determine the location of the compound in Abbottabad," Panetta told reporters in his final press conference as the Defense Secretary. If confirmed by the Senate, he would be replaced by Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska Senator.
"I think despite all of the work that was done on the intelligence side... we were putting the bits and pieces together, we never had a hundred per cent confidence that it was bin Laden who was located there. So from the very beginning, it was always very risky because we didn't know that in fact it was bin Laden," he said.
"We continued to look at the intelligence. It seemed to all point to it being bin Laden, but very frankly, we did not have a hundred percent," he said. Panetta disclosed that during planning for the operation, there were a lot of different views that raised questions and concerns about whether or not the US should do this.
"I remained very confident that, with the information we had, the best information we'd had on bin Laden since Tora Bora, that it was important for us not to simply ignore what we had but to take action and to go in and determine whether or not it was him," Panetta said.
"During the operation there were moments when we were all nervous about what was happening. But what made me confident that we ought to proceed was the confidence I had in those conducting the operation," Panetta said, adding that "in the end, that confidence proved worthwhile."
Panetta said bin Laden remained the inspirational leader for al-Qaeda, and that continued to make him dangerous. "He obviously was not close to the front lines of al-Qaeda, but he continued to stay in touch; he continued to communicate with them. I think for that reason, he continued to remain very dangerous in terms of the leadership that he could provide in developing the kind of 9/11-type attacks that we were the victim of," he said.
"So I think without question he remained a dangerous threat to the United States," Panetta said. Speaking on Afghanistan, Panetta asserted that America will maintain a long-term commitment to Kabul.
"The United States, NATO and the Afghan government agreed in Lisbon in 2010 and affirmed in Chicago last year that Afghanistan will assume full responsibility for its security
by the end of 2014. "We are well on track for that goal, and we will maintain a long-term commitment to Afghanistan, including through the continued training and equipment of Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida and their affiliates," he said.
"With the continued dedication and sacrifice of our troops, I am fully confident, as I prepare to hand over my responsibilities as secretary of defense, that we will prevail in denying al-Qaeda a safe haven from which to attack our homeland," he said.
"I am fully confident, as I prepare to hand over my responsibilities as secretary of defense, that we will prevail in denying al-Qaeda a safe haven from which to attack our homeland," he added. Panetta said Afghan forces are now leading nearly 90 per cent of security operations across the country.
"They are in the lead for security for more than three-quarters of the Afghan population, and they have retained security gains, even as the United States has drawn down the surge forces that we had there, the 33,000," he said. "Over the past several months General (John) Allen conducted a thorough assessment of the ISAF campaign plan and recommended the drawdown of the 34,000 additional troops in a phased approach over the coming year," he said as he welcomed the announcement made by President Obama during his State of the Union Address on Wednesday.