WASHINGTON, – Vice President Richard B. Cheney said Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida chief who masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is no longer an effective leader.

Cheney told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview that aired today the Bush Administration would like to capture or kill the terrorist leader in the waning days of President George W. Bush’s tenure, but suggested that bin Laden’s role has been reduced.

“My guess is at this point he’s operating in an area that’s very difficult, very hard to get to, that he’s not an effective leader at this stage,” Cheney said.

The vice president downplayed bin Laden’s personal influence, saying that the U.S. focus is more broadly aimed at continuing to dismantle the al-Qaida organization at large.

“The key thing for us — even if we got bin Laden tomorrow — is to take down his organization,” Cheney said, adding that the U.S. has killed or captured “a good portion” of al-Qaida’s senior leadership.

He noted that the hunt for bin Laden will continue after the Bush Administration leaves office Jan. 20.

Cheney said al-Qaida largely has been driven out of Afghanistan and relocated to Pakistan, where it has found safe haven and refuge. Meanwhile, the Taliban is focused on Afghanistan, operating back and forth across the Pakistani border, he added.

“I don’t believe that they’re any stronger than they were on 9/11, but they’re still actively involved,” Cheney said of the Taliban.

Describing what he sees as measures of progress in Afghanistan, Cheney pointed to the toppling of the Taliban government, the drafting of a constitution, national elections and a budding Afghan national army.

“We’ve made progress in Afghanistan,” he said. “But we’re going to be there for a long time.”

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