WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has failed to develop a government wide plan to combat terrorism in Pakistan‘s unruly tribal areas, even though top American officials concede that Al Qaeda has regenerated its ability to attack the United States and has established havens in that border region, government auditors said Thursday.
In a searing report, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, sharply criticized the administration for relying too heavily on Pakistan’s military to achieve American counterterrorism goals, while paying only token attention to economic development and improving governance.
Nearly $6 billion of the $10.5 billion in aid that Washington has provided to Pakistan since 2001 has been directed toward combating terrorism in the tribal areas, the report said. But about 96 percent of that aid has gone to reimburse Pakistan for its use of 120,000 troops in counterterrorism missions in that area that have shown little success.
In a rare acknowledgment, senior officials at the United States Embassy in Islamabad told the government auditors that they had received no strategic guidance from Washington on designing, carrying out, financing and monitoring a coordinated American strategy, the report said.
Only in March 2006, after President Pervez Musharraf asked President Bush for help with Pakistan’s wide-ranging counterterrorism plan for the tribal areas, did the American Embassy begin coordinating efforts by the Pentagon, State Department and Agency for International Development for a complementary strategy, the auditors found.
More than two years later, though, that plan to provide nearly $1 billion over four years in economic aid and reconstruction assistance in the tribal areas has not been fully approved in Washington, lacks full financing and faces uncertain support by the newly elected Pakistani government, the report concludes.
The report’s findings ignited a sharp exchange Thursday between members of Congress from both parties who commissioned the review and White House officials.
“It is appalling that there is still no comprehensive, interagency strategy concerning this critical region, and this lack of foresight is harming U.S. national security,” said Representative Howard L. Berman, a California Democrat who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Mr. Berman said the committee would hold a hearing on May 7 to investigate the report’s conclusions.
Senior administration officials disputed many of the auditors’ central findings, and said the administration had mapped out a detailed counterterrorism strategy in coordination with the Pakistani government.
“The United States is dealing with the terrorist threat in Pakistan through a variety of means across the political, economic and security fronts,” Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said in a statement. “We devote resources to health, education, economic development, political reform, as well as going after Al Qaeda with the Pakistani security forces.”
Mr. Johndroe continued, “This is going to be a long battle against a determined enemy, and I can assure you that the president and his national security advisers focus on this every day and will continue to do what is necessary to protect the American people.”
But the government auditors, who reviewed administration policy documents and classified intelligence reports and interviewed American and Pakistani officials, said the administration had failed to meet its own goals to destroy the threat from Al Qaeda and close the militants’ safe havens in Pakistan.
Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said March 30 that the security situation along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border “presents clear and present danger to Afghanistan, to Pakistan and to the West in general, and to the United States in particular.”
Nevertheless, the auditors painted a portrait of the State Department, the Pentagon, the Agency for International Development and other agencies carrying out individual counterterrorism strategies for Pakistan, with little or no formal integration of the plans by the National Security Council and the National Counterterrorism Center.
“As a result, since 2002, the embassy has had no Washington-supported, comprehensive plan to combat terrorists and close the terrorist safe haven in the FATA,” the auditors concluded, referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.
Without such an approach, the report found, the United States has had to rely on the Pakistani Army and the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force recruited from ethnic groups on the border.
State Department officials say that Pakistan has helped to kill or capture hundreds of suspected terrorists, including Qaeda operatives and Taliban leaders, since the Sept. 11 attacks, the report noted. Moreover, Pakistani military operations have resulted in the deaths of more than 1,400 Pakistani security forces, officials told the auditors.
But American Embassy officials told the auditors that an overreliance on military solutions to the problem stemmed from a lack of a more comprehensive counterterrorism approach.
The report concluded that there have been limited efforts to address the underlying causes of terrorism in the tribal areas, such as providing development assistance and addressing the political needs of a region still governed under administration and legal structures dating from 1901, in the region’s colonial period.
In response, the American Embassy has developed a plan in coordination with federal agencies in Washington to provide $956 million in fiscal years 2008 through 2011 for development, security and infrastructure in support of the Pakistani government, the auditors determined.
As of September, the embassy had also planned to spend $187.6 million in fiscal year 2007 money to help develop schools and hospitals in the tribal areas; to train the Frontier Corps, and equip them with night-vision goggles and radios; and to build border surveillance outposts.