Top Pentagon officials say the U.S. military will capture and kill al-Qaida’s new leader and that he will meet the same fate as Osama bin Laden.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters at the Pentagon Ayman al-Zawahri will face challenges as al-Qaida’s new leader, saying he lacks what Gates referred to as bin Laden’s “peculiar charisma.”
Gates says Zawahri, who was bin Laden’s deputy, also does not have the operational experience of the former leader who was killed last month by U.S. Special Forces during a raid in Pakistan.
“This announcement by al-Qaida reminds us that despite having suffered a huge loss with the killing of bin Laden and a number of others al-Qaida seeks to perpetuate itself, seeks to find replacements for those who have been killed and remains committed to the agenda that bin Laden put before them," said Gates.
Joining Gates at the briefing was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen who said the U.S. will hunt down al-Qaida’s new leader.
“He and his organization still threaten us," said Mullen. "As we did both seek to capture and kill and succeed in killing bin Laden we certainly will do the same thing with Zawahri.”
Since the death of bin Laden U.S. relations with Pakistan have been severely strained and some members of the Congress have questioned the billions of dollars in aid sent by Washington to Islamabad.
Secretary Gates said Pakistan remains an important ally and the lines of communication between the two countries must remain open.
“We need each other and we need each other more than just in the context of Afghanistan," he said. "Pakistan is an important player in terms of regional stability and in terms of Central Asia and so my view is that this is a relationship where we just need to keep working at it.”
Admiral Mullen, who along with Gates has made repeated trips to Pakistan, says terrorists in South Asia seek to get their hands on Islamabad’s nuclear technology.
“Of those things that I fear in the future it is the proliferation of that technology and it is the opportunity and the potential that it could fall into the hands of terrorists, many of whom are alive and well and seek that in that region and that is of great interest I think to our country and certainly to the rest of the world," he said.
The media briefing is expected to be the last for Secretary Gates at the Pentagon, who is retiring after four-and-a-half years on the job at the end of this month.
U.S. President Barack Obama has chosen CIA director Leon Panetta to takeover at the Pentagon.