GAO Blasts U.S. Effort on Pakistan Safe Haven

A new report criticizes efforts against the terrorist threat from the border areas.

Pakistan's new government signed a peace deal Wednesday with Islamic militants, a process that Western officials worry could take the pressure off Taliban and al-Qaida hardliners.

Pakistan's new government signed a peace deal Wednesday with Islamic militants, a process that Western officials worry could take the pressure off Taliban and al-Qaida hardliners.

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A tough new report from the U.S. government's top watchdog blasts the Bush administration for not having met its national security goals to target the terrorist threat emanating from al Qaeda's new safe haven in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions.

Perhaps the most damning finding in the new report from the General Accountability Office is that, of the $5.8 billion the U.S. government has directed toward Pakistan's so-called Federally Administered Tribal Areas from 2002 through 2007, a whopping 96 percent went directly to the Pakistani government to support military operations.

Three percent of U.S. aid was spent on a border security program and only about 1 percent, or $40 million, was spent on development activities by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"There have been relatively limited efforts, however, to address other underlying causes of terrorism in the FATA, such as providing development assistance or addressing the FATA's political needs," the GAO concluded, noting that the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan has not had a comprehensive strategy on the FATA supported by Washington since 2002.

There are some positive signs in the past year that things might be changing. The Bush administration has set aside some new funding for development projects, health and education services, and road construction.

The GAO also found that U.S. officials had apparently stepped up their oversight of the direct security assistance in recent months. Under the program, the U.S. military reimburses Pakistan for terrorism-related operations, particularly by the Army and the Air Force. From 2004 to early 2007, it deferred or rejected an average of just over 2 percent of Pakistan's reimbursement claims. But for the most recent set of claims, between March and June of 2007, that amount jumped to 20 percent.

In recent months, Washington has grown increasingly concerned that Pakistan is not pursuing al Qaeda suspects aggressively enough in the tribal areas. U.S. intelligence agencies believe that al Qaeda is currently using the FATA not simply as a safe haven, but as a base for producing propaganda and plotting operations overseas.

U.S. forces have launched several missile strikes from unmanned drones to target suspected terrorists in the tribal areas.

But Pakistan's new government has brokered a troubling new peace deal with tribal leaders, including leading militant figure Baitullah Mehsud, who is blamed for a spate of suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan officials claimed that militants agreed to recognize the government's authority, halt its attacks, and hand over foreign militants. In return, the government pledged to release prisoners and gradually withdraw its forces from the area.

Several past tribal deals have failed, strengthening al Qaeda even further. And U.S. officials are gloomy about the consequences of this latest agreement.