By Arun Kumar
Washington, Jun 28 (IANS): The top US spy chief believes Osama bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan and Iran is working on a nuclear capability but is still at least a year from making a bomb.
Osama bin Laden remains in "very deep hiding" in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Leon Panetta told ABC News Sunday.
"He obviously has tremendous security around him," he said of the Al Qaeda leader sought by the United States in connection with the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Panetta estimated that no more than 50 to 100 Al Qaeda terrorists were in Afghanistan, mainly in Kandahar.
With further efforts to disrupt Al Qaeda operations and kill Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, "we think ultimately we can flush out" bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the group's second-in-command, Panetta said.
However, he acknowledged it had been years since the US had any good intelligence on the precise location of bin Laden.
On Iran, Panetta said the Tehran government continues to develop the capability to build a nuclear weapon, but that debate exists within the country on whether to actually do so.
"We think they have enough low-enriched uranium right now for two weapons," Panetta said. "They do have to enrich it, fully, in order to get there. And we would estimate that if they made that decision, it would probably take a year to get there, probably another year to develop the kind of weapon delivery system in order to make that viable."
The war in Afghanistan had "serious problems," but the US-led mission was making progress, Panetta said. "It's harder, it's slower than I think anyone anticipated."
He cited governance problems, drug trafficking and the Taliban insurgency - all in a tribal society - as the major challenges to the goal of "making sure Al Qaeda never finds another safe haven from which to attack this country."
"Winning in Afghanistan is having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safe haven for Al Qaeda or for a militant Taliban that welcomes Al Qaeda," Panetta said.
He downplayed the chances of a political reconciliation process succeeding in Afghanistan, saying the Taliban and its allies would only take part if they believed they faced certain defeat.