Cheney Warns Musharraf Al Qaeda Regrouping in Pakistan

Vice President Dick Cheney warned Monday that Al Qaeda is "regrouping" in Pakistan's remote border region and sought President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's help in a stiffened push against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, Musharraf's office said.

Cheney's unannounced stopover en route to Afghanistan came as British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett also held talks with Musharraf and expressed concern about suspected militant safe havens near the Afghan frontier.

"Cheney expressed U.S. apprehensions of regrouping of Al Qaeda in the tribal areas and called for concerted efforts in countering the threat," according to a faxed statement from the presidential office.

"He expressed serious U.S. concerns on the intelligence being picked up of an impending Taliban and Al Qaeda 'spring offensive' against allied forces in Afghanistan," the statement said.

Cheney made no public comment after the talks in Musharraf's office in Islamabad.

The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, reported Monday that President Bush has decided to send a tough message to Musharraf, warning him that the Democrat-controlled Congress may cut off funding to Pakistan unless it gets more aggressive in hunting down Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives in its country.

Click here to view the New York Times story.

Unnamed senior administration officials told the newspaper that Bush decided to take a tougher line with Pakistan after concluding that Musharraf is failing to follow through on commitments to maintain the hunt for militants that he made during a September visit to Washington.

The U.S. and Britain have praised on Pakistan for its role in arresting Al Qaeda suspects who hid in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks triggered the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

But they are pressing Pakistan to do more to disrupt Pakistan-based Taliban expected to step up raids into Afghanistan in the coming months and to trap Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders suspected of hiding in the border region.

Musharraf complains that Pakistan is being scapegoated for failures inside Afghanistan and contends that it has received no evidence that militants leaders such as Usama bin Laden or the Taliban's Mullah Omar are on Pakistani soil.

During more than two hours of talks Monday, Musharraf told Cheney that Pakistan "has done the maximum in the fight against terrorism" and that "joint efforts were needed for achieving the desired objectives," his office said.

Musharraf also defended a September peace agreement with militants in the North Waziristan tribal region. Critics say the deal effectively ceded the area to militants and some U.S. military officials say it was followed by a rise in attacks in Afghanistan.

The agreement, under which tribal leaders are supposed to curb militant activities, "is the way forward," Musharraf said, arguing that tribesmen are best turned against the militants with economic aid and political measures.

Later Monday, Cheney landed at the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan for consultations with American military leaders ahead of a meeting with President Hamid Karzai.

Cheney landed at the base at Bagram, an hour north of Kabul, and was expected to depart within a few hours.

The United States now has some 27,000 troops in Afghanistan — the highest number ever. About 14,000 of those troops are part of the 35,000-strong NATO force, which a U.S. general — Gen. Dan McNeill — took command of earlier this month.

Cheney and Karzai were likely to talk about security along the Afghan-Pakistan border and an expected increase in violence by Taliban militants as spring thaws mountain snows.