The just-released National Intelligence Estimate is leading both the administration and the punditocracy to conclude that going along with the Pakistani policy of permitting Al Qaeda to enjoy safe havens in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier tribal areas wasn’t really such a great idea.
Al-Qaida is using its growing strength in Pakistan and Iraq to plot attacks on U.S. soil, heightening the terror threat facing the United States over the next few years, intelligence agencies concluded in a report unveiled Tuesday.
At the same time, the intelligence analysts worry that international cooperation against terrorism will be hard to sustain as memories of Sept. 11 fade and nations’ views diverge on what the real threat is.
In the National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush and other top policymakers, analysts laid out a range of dangers – from al-Qaida to Lebanese Hezbollah to non-Muslim radical groups – that pose a “persistent and evolving threat” to the country over the next three years.
The findings focused most heavily on Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, which was judged to remain the most serious threat to the United States. The group’s affiliate in Iraq, which has not yet posed a direct threat to U.S. soil, could do just that, the report concluded. Al-Qaida in Iraq threatened to attack the United States in a Web statement last September.
National Intelligence Council Chairman Thomas Fingar warned that the group’s operatives in Iraq are getting portable, firsthand experience in covert communications, smuggling, improvised explosive devices, understanding U.S. military tactics and more.
The Iraqi affiliate also helps al-Qaida more broadly as it tries to energize Sunni Muslim extremists around the globe, raise resources and recruit and indoctrinate operatives – “including for homeland attacks,” according to a declassified summary of the report’s main findings.
In addition, analysts stressed the importance of al-Qaida’s increasingly comfortable hideout in Pakistan that has resulted from a hands-off accord between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and tribal leaders along the Afghan border. That 10-month-old deal, which has unraveled in recent days, gave al-Qaida new opportunities to set up compounds for terror training, improve its international communications with associates and bolster its operations.
President Bushâ€™s top counterterrorism advisers acknowledged today that the strategy for fighting Osama bin Ladenâ€™s Al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan had failed, as the White House released a grim new intelligence assessment that has forced the administration to consider more aggressive measures inside Pakistan.
The intelligence report, the most formal assessment since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks about the terrorist threat facing the United States, concludes that the United States is losing ground on a number of fronts in the fight against Al Qaeda, and describes the terrorist organization as having significantly strengthened over the past two years.
In identifying the main reasons for Al Qaedaâ€™s resurgence, intelligence officials and White House aides pointed the finger squarely at a hands-off approach toward the tribal areas by Pakistanâ€™s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who last year brokered a cease-fire with tribal leaders in an attempt to drain support for Islamic extremism in the region.
â€œIt hasnâ€™t worked for Pakistan,â€ said Frances Fragos Townsend, who heads the Homeland Security Council at the White House. â€œIt hasnâ€™t worked for the United States.â€
Al-Qaeda has reestablished its central organization, training infrastructure and lines of global communication over the past two years, putting the United States in a “heightened threat environment” despite expanded worldwide counterterrorism efforts, according to a new intelligence estimate.
Intelligence officials attributed the al-Qaeda gains primarily to its establishment of a safe haven in ungoverned areas of northwestern Pakistan. Its affiliation with the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, the report said, has helped it to “energize” extremists elsewhere and has aided Osama bin Laden’s recruitment and funding.
The estimate concluded that “the U.S. Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years.” Al-Qaeda, it said, “is and will remain” the most serious element of that threat.