Al-Qaeda still trying to make inroads into Afghanistan, says Leon Panetta

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Washington, Nov. 30 (ANI): U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said Al-Qaeda fighters are still trying to make inroads into Afghanistan, and cautioned that battling the group would be a core U.S. mission there for years to come.

Panetta made the comments as the US weighs how large a military force to keep in Afghanistan when the NATO combat mission ends in 2014, ending a war that, at that point, will have stretched for over 13 years, reports The News.

He said fighting the core Al-Qaeda group to prevent it from re establishing a safe haven in Afghanistan was "going to be the fundamental thrust of the (counter-terrorism) effort."

"Although we clearly have had an impact on (Al-Qaeda's) presence in Afghanistan, the fact is that they continue to show up. And intelligence continues to indicate that they are looking for some kind of capability to be able to go into Afghanistan as well," Panetta said.

A U.S. defense official estimated there were still only about 100 Al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan. (ANI)