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Fresh From The CIA, Panetta Lands In Afghanistan

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday for his first visit to that country since assuming the position.

Panetta's view of the war in Afghanistan may be colored by his experience as director of the CIA and the successful raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Panetta takes the reins at the Pentagon riding high. He oversaw the CIA and is credited for helping the agency track down bin Laden. On the flight to Kabul, Panetta told reporters that he believes al-Qaida and its affiliates are on their heels.

"I was convinced in my prior capacity, and I am convinced in this capacity, that we are in reach of strategically defeating al-Qaida," Panetta said.

In the wake of the bin Laden raid, he said, the U.S. has identified between 10 and 20 key al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Defense officials have said the number of al-Qaida members in Afghanistan is down to fewer than a hundred.

Beginning with this visit, Panetta said, he hopes to open a new dialogue with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Panetta has met Karzai before in his previous job, but this is the first time the two will meet since Panetta was named secretary of defense. Panetta told reporters that he's one of several new people appointed by the Obama administration to oversee the war; Ryan Crocker is the new ambassador and Gen. John Allen will soon take over from Gen. David Petraeus as the new U.S. commander.

"I think that these are all individuals that have a good understanding of Karzai, and hopefully it can be the beginning of a much better relationship than we've had over the last few years," he said.

Panetta will meet with senior Afghan leaders and visit with U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan.

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