'This Week' Transcript: Panetta

PANETTA: Winning in Afghanistan is having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safe haven for Al Qaida or for a militant Taliban that welcomes Al Qaida. That's really the measure of success for the United States. Our purpose, our whole mission there is to make sure that Al Qaida never finds another safe haven from which to attack this country. That's the fundamental goal of why the United States is there. And the measure of success for us is do you have an Afghanistan that is stable enough to make sure that never happens.

TAPPER: What's the latest thinking on where Osama bin Laden is, what kind of health he's in and how much control or contact he has with Al Qaida?

PANETTA: He is, as is obvious, in very deep hiding. He's in an area of the -- the tribal areas in Pakistan that is very difficult. The terrain is probably the most difficult in the world.

TAPPER: Can you be more specific? Is it in Waziristan or--

PANETTA: All i can tell you is that it's in the tribal areas. That's all we know, that he's located in that vicinity. The terrain is very difficult. He obviously has tremendous security around him.

But having said that, the more we continue to disrupt Al Qaida's operations, and we are engaged in the most aggressive operations in the history of the CIA in that part of the world, and the result is that we are disrupting their leadership. We've taken down more than half of their Taliban leadership, of their Al Qaida leadership. We just took down number three in their leadership a few weeks ago. We continue to disrupt them. We continue to impact on their command-and-control. We continue to impact on their ability to plan attacks in this country. If we keep that pressure on, we think ultimately we can flush out bin Laden and Zawahiri and get after them.

TAPPER: When was the last time we had good intelligence on bin Laden's location?

PANETTA: It's been a while. I think it almost goes back, you know, to the early 2000s, that, you know, in terms of actually when he was moving from Afghanistan to Pakistan, that we had the last precise information about where he might be located. Since then, it's been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location.

TAPPER: We're in a new phase now of the war, in which the threat can come from within, the so-called homegrown terrorists or the lone wolf terrorists. I'm talking about Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the failed Christmas Day bomber; Lieutenant (sic) Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter. What do these incidents and the apparent increased occurrences of these types of attacks say about the nature of the threat we face?

PANETTA: I think what's happened is that the more we put pressure on the Al Qaida leadership in the tribal areas in Pakistan -- and I would say that as a result of our operations, that the Taliban leadership is probably at its weakest point since 9/11 and their escape from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Having said that, they clearly are continuing to plan, continuing to try to attack this country, and they are using other ways to do it.

TAPPER: Al Qaida you're talking about.

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