By SPENCER ACKERMAN
There once was a time, just last year, when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta thought the U.S. wasthisclose to wiping al-Qaida off the face of the earth, once and for all. That appears to have gone up in the flames of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Now, a more dour Panetta believes that it’s not enough to continue the drone strikes and commando raids in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; they’ve got to expand “outside declared combat zones” to places like Nigeria, Mali and even Libya.
That was Panetta’s message at Tuesday evening address to the Center for American Security, an influential Washington defense think tank. Panetta, a former director of the CIA, gave a strong defense of counterterrorism drone strikes and commando raids, calling them “the most precise campaign in the history of warfare,” and indicated strongly that they’re only going to intensify in the coming years.