CIA Director Leon Panetta says that Osama bin Laden "is in an area of the tribal areas of Pakistan." But Panetta conceded the agency has not had good intelligence on bin Laden's whereabouts since the early months of the war in Afghanistan, which began nine years ago.
In an exclusive interview on ABC's This Week, Panetta told anchor Jake Tapper, "It's been a while. I think it goes back almost to the early 2000s, you know in terms of actually when [bin Laden] was leaving from Afghanistan to Pakistan that we had the last precise information about where he might be located. Since then it has been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location."
Panetta called efforts to disrupt al Qaeda operations "the most aggressive operations in the history of the CIA in that part of the world." More than half of al Qaeda's leadership has been taken down, he said.
Panetta pointed to a recent success in taking out al Qaeda's No. 3 leader Mustafa Ahmed Muhammad Uthman Abu al-Yazid, known as Shaikh Sa'id al-Masri. "If we keep that pressure on, we think ultimately we can flush out bin Laden and [Ayman al] Zawahiri and get after them."
The number of al Qaeda remaining in Afghanistan, Panetta said, is "relatively small."
"At most, we're looking at 50 to 100, maybe less," he said. "It's in that vicinity. There's no question that the main location of al Qaeda is in the tribal areas of Pakistan."
The CIA director said "there are some serious problems" with the war in Afghanistan but maintained that progress is being made.
"It's harder, it's slower than I think anyone anticipated. But at the same time we are seeing an increase in violence," he told Tapper. June has been the deadliest month in the war for NATO forces in Afghanistan and the second deadliest for U.S. forces with 52 killed.
The key to success or failure in Afghanistan, Panetta said, "is whether the Afghans accept responsibility, are able to deploy an effective army and police force to maintain stability."
Progress, he said is seen "in the fact that there's less deterioration as far as the ability of the Taliban to maintain control. So we are seeing elements of progress, but this is going to be tough."
Recent terror attacks on the homeland of the kind seen in the Christmas Day airline bomb attempt, the Fort Hood shooting and the Times Square bomb plot represent "the most serious threat to the United States right now," Panetta said.
"They're using somebody who doesn't have a record in terrorism, it's tougher to track them. If they're using people who are already here, who are in hiding and suddenly decide to do an attack, that's another potential treat that they're engaged in. The third is the individual who decides to self-radicalize," he said.
Panetta denied reports that an American cleric in Yemen, Anwar al Awlaki, is on an assassination list but said he's connected to several terror plots.
"Awlaki is a terrorist, and yes, he's a U.S. citizen, but he is first and foremost a terrorist and we're going to treat him like a terrorist," he said. "We don't have an assassination list, but I can tell you this, we have a terrorist list and he's on it."
Though he didn't directly acknowledge the CIA's predator drone program, Panetta said critics that say U.S. drone strikes violate U.S. and international law are "dead wrong."
"We have a responsibility to defend this country and that's what we're doing," Panetta said.