WASHINGTON – Terrorists are still operating freely in Pakistan along the country's Afghanistan border, despite the U.S. giving Pakistan more than $10.5 billion in military and economic aid, according to a government watchdog agency.
The Government Accountability Office says in a report released Thursday that the U.S. lacks a comprehensive plan to deal with the terrorist threat.
Democrats called the report appalling because of congressional mandates demanding the nation do more to coordinate efforts by federal agencies.
"For anyone wondering how we're doing in the fight to get the terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11, this report pretty much says it all," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
Some federal agencies, including the Defense Department, agreed with the findings. But the State Department disagreed, saying that a comprehensive strategy does exist and is being implemented.
Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the United States is dealing with the terrorist threat in Pakistan through a variety of means across political, economic and security fronts.
"We devote resources to health, education, economic development, political reform, as well as going after Al Qaeda with the Pakistani security forces," Johndroe said. "This is going to be a long battle against a determined enemy and I can assure you that the president and his national security advisors focus on this every day and will continue to do what is necessary to protect the American people."
Pakistan is widely seen as the linchpin in the U.S. anti-terrorism strategy. After the U.S. invasion in Afghanistan, Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters retreated across the mountainous 373-mile border into Pakistan's unpoliced tribal areas.
Last month, CIA Director Michael Hayden said that if there were another terrorist attack against Americans, it would almost certainly originate from that region, where Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.
But because of a desire to respect Pakistan's sovereignty, the U.S. since 2002 has relied mostly on the Pakistani military to go after the terrorist networks.
Of the $10.5 billion in aid provided to Pakistan since then, about $5.8 billion has been identified specifically for efforts along the border, mostly to reimburse Pakistan for military operations, according to GAO. Federal officials told the GAO that some 120,000 military and paramilitary forces have been deployed by Pakistan and hundreds of suspected Al Qaeda operatives have been killed or captured.
"However, 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 Pakistan's" border area, GAO stated.
GAO also found that while individual federal agencies, including the Defense and State departments, have efforts under way to address the problem, they do not have a single coordinated strategy "that includes all elements of national power — diplomatic, military, intelligence, development assistance, economic, and law enforcement support."
In 2006, the Bush administration began developing plans to ramp up anti-terrorism efforts in the region using such tools as development and public diplomacy. According to GAO, the plans devised by the Defense and State departments and USAID still lack final approval, including from the Pakistan government, as well as money.