U.S. Lacks Plan to Operate in Pakistani Tribal Areas, GAO Says

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2008

The Bush administration has no comprehensive plan for dealing with the threat posed by Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding, according to a new report released yesterday from the research arm of Congress.

The Government Accountability Office also said "the United States has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven" provided by the tribal areas, despite having spent more than $10 billion for Pakistani military operations in the mountainous border region."

GAO staff members interviewed experts inside and outside the government, and "we found broad agreement . . . that al-Qaida had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven" in the unpoliced region, the report says.

U.S. intelligence officials have previously portrayed the proliferation of fighters in the Pakistani tribal areas as a central threat to U.S. security and have expressed frustration at the lack of progress there by Pakistan forces.

But the report also supports an argument by congressional Democrats that the war in Iraq and administration bungling have helped create new danger in an area largely out of the control of any sovereign state. After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden, are believed to have fled across the border to Pakistan.

"The Bush administration's limitless commitment of our limited resources to the war in Iraq has compromised our focus," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which commissioned the study, called the GAO findings "appalling" and said a "lack of foresight is harming U.S. national security."

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, said the administration "is dealing with the terrorist threat in Pakistan through a variety of means," including "health, education, economic development, political reform" and military resources. "This is going to be a long battle against a determined enemy," Johndroe said.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence agreed that the United States had not met its national security goals in the tribal areas, while the Defense Department said it agrees with the need to develop a comprehensive plan.

The State Department, however, said the GAO report "does not acknowledge that the United States had an overall plan for Pakistan" and that U.S. government efforts have been comprehensive.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company