WASHINGTON - 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 report 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 military analysts and officials both inside and outside the government, and "we found broad agreement . . . that Al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven" in the unpoliced region, the report says.
US intelligence officials have previously portrayed the proliferation of militants in the Pakistani tribal areas as a central threat to US 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 US 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," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada. Representative Howard Berman, a California Democrat who is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which commissioned the study, called the GAO findings "appalling" and said a "lack of foresight is harming US 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," he said.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, for example, 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 US government efforts have been comprehensive.
© 2008 Boston Globe