GAO: Administration lacks plan to combat terrorists in Pakistan

In a scathing critique of the Bush administration's failure to destroy a resurgent al Qaeda, the Government Accountability Office said the terrorist group is training operatives at a safe haven in Pakistan's lawless tribal region and is in the final stages of preparing another attack inside the United States.

GAO said the administration never developed a plan to destroy the terrorist threat or to shut down the safe havens in Pakistan, despite recommendations by the president's own national security strategy, the findings of the 9/11 commission and legislative mandates from Congress. GAO stated clearly where the blame for this failure resides: "The president of the United States has primary responsibility to ensure that his national security strategy is carried out effectively."

According to the report, the Bush administration has relied on the Pakistani military to combat al Qaeda, but has not adequately monitored billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars sent to the Pakistani government for that purpose. The Pakistani military has had some "tactical successes," GAO noted, and since 2001 has helped kill or capture hundreds of suspected terrorists and al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

Despite those successes, and $10.5 billion in U.S. aid, Pakistan's efforts for the most part have failed, GAO said, and officials from intelligence agencies and the Defense and State departments have concluded that al Qaeda continues to recruit and train terrorists and launch attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan from the tribal regions. Al Qaeda's central leadership is based in the tribal regions and is using the safe haven to "put the last element necessary to launch another attack against America into place, including the identification, training and positioning of Western operatives for an attack," the report said.

Pakistan's mountainous tribal region shares a 373-mile border with Afghanistan, and its 3.1 million inhabitants suffer from underemployment and extreme poverty. The area is different from the rest of Pakistan and is governed by a legal and administrative system that's a holdover from the British colonial period; the tribes have almost no political representation and few legal rights.

The watchdog agency said U.S. and Pakistani officials acknowledged that military operations alone will not restore security to the tribal regions. Recognizing the growing terrorist threat, and absent guidance from Washington, U.S. Embassy officials in Pakistan began in 2006 to cobble together their own efforts at combating militant groups involving a mixture of military, development and diplomatic measures.

The embassy plan would provide $2 billion over nine years for economic development and extend to Pakistan government control over the tribal regions. It also would include counterinsurgency training of Pakistani security forces. Administration support in implementing or funding that effort has not been forthcoming, GAO said.

The agency recommended that the White House put together a comprehensive plan using all elements of national power -- integrating Defense, State, the U.S. Agency for International Development and intelligence community resources -- to shut down the terrorist safe haven, and designate one person in charge of coordinating that effort.

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