By Karen DeYoung
Monday, May 17, 2010; 8:08 PM
President Obama's national security adviser, James L. Jones, and CIA Director Leon Panetta were set to travel to Pakistan Monday night for meetings with top government, military and intelligence officials on progress in the Times Square car bomb investigation and concerns about future terrorist attacks.
Officials say the administration has been pleased so far with Pakistani cooperation in the investigation, which has focused on any role insurgent groups there may have played in helping to train and otherwise assist bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad.
But officials said that Jones and Panetta intend to reiterate to the Pakistanis the importance that the administration places on more aggressive military action against groups allied with al-Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA. Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, has said he traveled to the region to train with elements of the Pakistani Taliban, officials say.
The bombing attempt has already given rise to questions from Congress about Pakistan's zeal in confronting radical groups; a successful attack in the United States would severely undermine a bilateral relationship that is a crucial part of the administration's Afghanistan war strategy.
"It's important they hear our latest thinking on the danger to all of us from the tribal areas. That's very, very real," said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity about the ongoing investigation and the intelligence relationship with Pakistan.
Shahzad was arrested May 3, two days after the bombing attempt; he waived a court appearance and is said to be cooperating with law enforcement officials. Last week, two men in Boston and a third in Maine were arrested in connection with the case and are being held on immigration charges.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder has said that, based on questioning of Shahzad and other information obtained in Pakistan, the administration believes the attempt was facilitated and directed by the Pakistani Taliban. The organization, known in Pakistan by its acronym TTP, is one of several groups based in the FATA -- including al-Qaeda and portions of the Afghan Taliban -- that the administration believes increasingly share objectives and coordinate activities.
Until recently, the Pakistani Taliban was believed to be interested exclusively in domestic targets, and is responsible for numerous attacks inside Pakistan. The Pakistani military has waged a fierce offensive against the group over the past year, including last fall in South Waziristan, the FATA region that was its base of operations.
But many Pakistani Taliban fighters have now dispersed to other areas of the FATA, including North Waziristan, where the administration would like Pakistan to expand its operations against the Afghan Taliban network of Jalaluddin Haqqani and al-Qaeda. Although the Pakistanis have begun targeted operations there, they have said their military forces are stretched too thin for an all-out offensive.
"In light of the failed Times Square terrorist attack and other terrorist attacks that trace to the border region, we believe that it is time to redouble our efforts with our allies in Pakistan to close this safe haven and create an environment where we and the Pakistani people can lead safe and productive lives," National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.
Jones and Panetta are scheduled to meet Wednesday with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari; Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani; the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani; and Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, head of Pakistan's main spy agency.
Staff writer Greg Miller contributed to this report.