Senate Democrats

The Bush Administration’s Failure To Make The Fight Against Al Qaeda In Afghanistan And Pakistan The Central National Security Priority It Must Be

Yesterday, President Bush called for a “quiet surge” of U.S. troops to Afghanistan in the coming months.  After years of focusing on the wrong fight in Iraq and diverting critical resources away from efforts to defeat the growing Taliban and al Qaeda threat, it is past time that the Administration turned its attention to defeating the terrorists that attacked our country on 9/11.  Unfortunately, however, this shift comes too late and falls far short.  A modest troop increase is not sufficient to reversing years of disastrous Bush administration policies that have allowed al Qaeda terrorists to rebuild their organization and secure safe havens along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.  In the face of a dramatically empowered al Qaeda network, actively plotting attacks around the world and on the U.S. homeland, we need a fundamental change in strategy.

 Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorists opearting along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border pose the gravest threat to global security and U.S. national security:

July 2007 NIE: Al Qaeda Has Secured A New Safe Haven In Pakistan’s Tribal Region and Has Regenerated Key Elements of Its Homeland Attack Capability. “Al-Qa’ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities.  We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership… As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.” [National Intelligence Estimate, 7/17/07

2008 Annual Threat Assessment: DNI McConnell Testified That Al Qaeda Has Continued to Improve its Homeland Attack Capabilities and is Actively Operating and Plotting Mass Casualty Attacks from its Pakistani Safe Haven. “Using the sanctuary in the border area of Pakistan, al-Qa’ida has been able to maintain a cadre of skilled lieutenants capable of directing the organization’s operations around the world.  It has lost many of its senior operational planners over the years, but the group’s adaptable decision making process and bench of skilled operatives have enabled it to identify effective replacements…  We assess that al-Qa’ida’s Homeland plotting is likely to continue to focus on prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets designed to produce mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the population. [Statement of the Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to the Senate Armed Services Committee, 2/27/08

2008 Annual Threat Assessment: DNI McConnell Testified That Al Qaeda Operating in the Tribal Area of Pakistan Represents the Most Dangerous Component of the Terrorist Network. “Al-Qa’ida and its terrorist affiliates continue to pose significant threats to the United States at home and abroad, and al-Qa’ida’s central leadership based in the border area of Pakistan is its most dangerous component…The FATA serves as a staging area for al-Qa’ida’s attacks in support of the Taliban in Afghanistan as well as a location for training new terrorist operatives, for attacks in Pakistan, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the United States.” [Statement of the Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to the Senate Armed Services Committee, 2/27/08]

CIA Director Michael Haden Warned That Terrorists Operating on the Border of Afghanistan and Pakistan Pose an Imminent Danger to U.S. National Security.  In March, CIA Director Michael Hayden stated that the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan represented a “clear and present danger to Afghanistan, to Pakistan and to the West in general, and to the United States in particular.” [General Michael Hayden, Meet the Press, 3/30/08]

The terrorist threat continues to grow:  

Al Qaeda is Growing Stronger and Increasingly Secure in its Pakistani Safe Haven.  “Al Qaeda is more capable of attacking inside the United States than it was last year, and its cadre of senior leaders has recruited and trained ‘dozens’ of militants capable of blending into Western society to carry out attacks, the analyst said.  The remarks Tuesday by the intelligence analyst, Ted Gistaro, were the most comprehensive assessment of the Qaeda threat by an American official since the National Intelligence Estimate issued last summer, which concluded that Al Qaeda had largely rebuilt its haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas.  A year later, Mr. Gistaro said, the problem has only grown worse, in part because of a symbiotic relationship between Qaeda operatives and Pakistani militant groups based in the tribal areas.  ‘It is a stronger, more comfortable safe haven than it was for them a year ago,’ said Mr. Gistaro, who supervises all intelligence reports on terrorism at the National Intelligence Council.” [New York Times, 8/12/08

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen Warned that an Unprecedented Number of Foreign Fighters Have Moved into the Afghanistan/Pakistan Border Area this Year.  “Adm. Mike Mullen said militants are flowing into Afghanistan more freely this year compared with last year because Pakistan’s government and military are not putting enough pressure on insurgents.“There’s a clear problem on the border,” said Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. “There’s clearly not enough pressure being brought to bear, particularly on the Pakistan side of the border. There’s more freedom there. ‘There’s a new government in Pakistan who is working its way through figuring out how to get at the extremist challenge.’  Mullen said… ‘There are clearly more foreign fighters in the FATA (Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas) than have been there in the past,’ he added.” [Associated Press, 7/11/08]

  • Admiral Mullen Says that Taliban and al Qaeda Terrorist are Becoming More Sophisticated.  “Admiral Michael Mullen, the most senior US military officer, also warned last month of the growth of the Taliban and attacks that would get ‘more and more sophisticated’, as seen with recent ambushes on foreign soldiers.  ‘We saw that just this month (August) near Kabul, where French troops were attacked, and we saw it last month in the Wanat Valley, where nine of our own troops were killed,’ he told reporters.  ‘The safe havens in the border regions provide launching pads for these sorts of attacks, and they need to be shut down,’ he said, referring to militant sanctuaries along the border in neighbouring Pakistan.” [AFP, 9/9/08

Officials Have Reported Increasing Ties Between Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency and Taliban Fighters Operating Along the Border with Afghanistan.  In July, the New York Times reported that a “top Central Intelligence Agency official traveled secretly to Islamabad this month to confront Pakistan’s most senior officials with new information about ties between the country’s powerful spy service and militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas, according to American military and intelligence officials.  The C.I.A. emissary presented evidence showing that members of the spy service had deepened their ties with some militant groups that were responsible for a surge of violence in Afghanistan, possibly including the suicide bombing this month of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the officials said.  The C.I.A. assessment specifically points to links between members of the spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and the militant network led by Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, which American officials believe maintains close ties to senior figures of Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas.” [New York Times, 7/30/08]

Secretary Gates Assessed that Al Qaeda Has Expanded its Global Reach in Recent Years, Evolving a More Dynamic and Resilient Global Movement.  In a July news briefing Secretary Gates stated that “al Qaeda at this point is a fairly dynamic movement.  And it has – the way I would describe it is in some ways like a cancer.  It’s metastasized, and it’s spread to other places, like al Qaeda in North Africa, the Maghreb, and al Qaeda in the Levant, and so on.  And these groups, as best we can tell, have a fair amount of independence.  They get inspiration, they get sometimes guidance, probably some training, probably some money from the al Qaeda leadership, but it’s not…as centralized a movement as it was, say, in 2001.  But in some ways, the fact that it has spread in the way that it has, in my view, makes it perhaps more dangerous.” [Secretary Gates, Department of Defense News Briefing, 7/1/08]

The Bush Administration’s flawed policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan have allowed Al Qaeda to rebuilt its strenghth and regain its terrorist sanctuary:

In the Seven Years Since 9/11 the Bush Administration Has Failed to Hunt Down Osama bin Laden, Officials Now Blame Misguided Strategy and Belatedly Call for a New Approach. “Frustrated by repeated dead ends in the search for Osama bin Laden, U.S. and Pakistani officials said they are questioning long-held assumptions about their strategy and are shifting tactics to intensify the use of the unmanned but lethal Predator drone spy plane in the mountains of western Pakistan… There has been no confirmed trace of bin Laden since he narrowly escaped from the CIA and the U.S. military after the battle near Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in December 2001, according to U.S., Pakistani and European officials.  They said they are now concentrating on a short list of other al-Qaeda leaders who have been sighted more recently, in hopes that their footprints could lead to bin Laden.  In interviews, the officials attributed their failure to find bin Laden to an overreliance on military force, disruptions posed by the war in Iraq and a pattern of underestimating the enemy.  Above all, they said, the search has been handicapped by an inability to develop informants in Pakistan’s isolated tribal regions, where bin Laden is believed to be hiding.” [Washington Post, 9/10/08] 

Independent Commission Concluded that the Bush Administration Has Failed to Provide the Level of Commitment Necessary to Fulfill the Mission in Afghanistan.  Co-chairs of the Afghanistan Study Group, General James Jones and Ambassador Thomas Pickering, have assessed that the “light footprint” approach, as used by the Bush Administration for nearly seven years in Afghanistan, needs to be replaced with the “right footprint.”  They stated that “It is time to re-vitalize and re-double our efforts toward stabilizing Afghanistan and re-think our economic strategies to ensure that the level of our commitment is commensurate with the threat posed by possible failure in Afghanistan.  Without the right level of commitment on the part of the U.S., its allies, and Afghanistan’s neighbors, the principles agreed upon by both the Afghan government and the international community at the 2006 London Conference and the goals stated in the Afghanistan compact will not be achievable.” [Center for the Study of the Presidency, Afghanistan Study Group Report, 1/30/08

  • Marine Corps Commandant, General James Conway, Has Raised Concerns about the Bush Administration’s “Economy of Force” Strategy in Afghanistan.  “Conway voiced concern over increased violence in Afghanistan, where he said insurgent attacks and U.S. troop casualties have increased since 2004.  ‘The Taliban are growing bolder in their tactics and clearly doing their best to exploit security gaps where they exist,’ he said.  More foreign fighters are also flowing into Afghanistan from Pakistan, and the al-Qaeda terrorist network is shifting its focus to those countries after serious defeats in Iraq, he said. Conway made a strong pitch to send thousands of additional Marines or other U.S. troops to Afghanistan, voicing agreement with U.S. commanders there who have said for years that they have too small a force and have called for as many as 10,000 more troops. ‘The economy of force is not necessarily working," Conway said.” [Washington Post, 8/28/08

The Bush Administration Has Outsourced U.S. Counterterrorism Efforts to Pakistan’s Military – An Unreliable Ally in the Fight Against Terrorism.  According to the GAO, the Bush Administration “has relied principally” on the Pakistani military to destroy the terrorist threat in the FATA region, the gravest threat to U.S. national security today.  It attributes this short-sighted strategy to “the lack of a comprehensive plan to guide embassy efforts and the sense that the Pakistani military was the most capable institution in Pakistan to quickly undertake operations against Al Qaeda immediately after the attacks of 9/11.  Senior embassy officials stated that this may have led to an ‘over-reliance’ on the Pakistani military to achieve U.S. national security objectives in Pakistan.” [GAO, 4/17/08]

  • Billions in U.S. Counterterrorism Assistance to Pakistan Wasted, Diverted Away from Efforts to Fight the Taliban and al Qaeda.  “Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units.  Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs.” [New York Times, 12/24/07]

The Bush Administration still does not have an effective strategy for combating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan:  

Nearly Seven Years After 9/11, Independent Experts Report that the Bush Administration Has Failed to Develop a Comprehensive Strategy to Defeat the Terrorist Threat and Destroy al Qaeda’s Safe Haven Along the Border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  As the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently reported, the Bush Administration has no “comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals” in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).  Despite pledges made by President Bush, directives from the independent 9/11 Commission, and legislation passed by Congress specifically mandating the establishment of comprehensive plans to combat terrorism, the GAO reported that “since 2002, the U.S. embassy in Pakistan has had no Washington-supported, comprehensive plan to combat terrorism and close the terrorist safe haven in the FATA.” [GAO, 4/17/08

RAND Study Concluded that the Bush Administration’s Counterterrorism Approach Is Not Effective – And Is Often Counterproductive – To Countering the Threat of al Qaeda.  According to the study, the Bush Administration’s “strategy based on military force has not been effective” and instead, the Bush approach “has the opposite effect from what is intended: [Military force] is often overused, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment.”  The report called for a “fundamental rethinking of U.S. counterterrorism strategy” and its overemphasis on the use of military force to a strategy that includes a “range of policy instruments” such as police and intelligence work, political negotiations, and economic sanctions. [RAND, How Terrorist Groups End, 7/28/08]

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