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Al Qaeda still in Pakistan tribal areas, report says

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  • Al Qaeda has "succeeded in establishing a safe haven," GAO says
  • Report says there is no comprehensive U.S. plan for reaching security goals
  • Democratic critic says report is "appalling," blames administration
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Al Qaeda is still operating within Pakistan's mountainous tribal region bordering Afghanistan, and the United States lacks a "comprehensive" plan for meeting its national security goals there, said a U.S. government study released Thursday.

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A Pakistani policeman watches over a border area in February 2008.

Despite the United States providing $10.5 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan, a key U.S. ally, the Government Accountability Office said it "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 Federally Administrated Tribal Areas.

Of the $10.5 billion in U.S. aid, more than half -- $5.8 billion -- was specifically provided for the tribal region, the GAO said.

Furthermore, the report said, "No comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals in FATA has been developed, as stipulated by the National Security Strategy for Combating Terrorism [in 2003], called for by an independent commission [in 2004] and mandated by congressional legislation [in 2007]."

"Our report does not state that the U.S. lacks agency-specific plans; rather, we found that there was no comprehensive plan that integrated the combined capabilities of Defense, State, USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development], the intelligence community," GAO said.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. officials said intelligence indicated that Osama bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda leaders, who had been based in Afghanistan before the attacks on New York and Washington, were operating in the tribal region.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has denied that claim and has said that U.S. military missions there would violate Pakistan's sovereignty.

So, since 2002, the United States has "relied principally on the Pakistan military to address U.S. national security goals" in that region, the GAO report said. Of the $5.8 billion the United States provided for aid in the tribal region, 96 percent of it reimbursed Pakistan for military operations there, the agency said.

Two of the eight lawmakers who commissioned the GAO report, Democratic Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, said it indicated a failing on the part of the Bush administration.

"The Bush administration has had six years to come up with a plan to get Osama bin Laden and his group, but it is still flying by the seat of its pants," Menendez said in a statement.

"We've dumped 10 billion American taxpayer dollars into Pakistan with the expectation that the terrorists will be hunted down and smoked out, but al Qaeda has been allowed to rejuvenate in the area that is supposed to be locked down," he said.

Harkin called the report's findings "appalling."

"The White House must propose a strategic policy in this area and follow it, especially when we have this new opportunity to forge a fresh strategic relationship with the new civilian government in Pakistan," he said in a statement.

The Defense Department said it agreed with the report's findings, according to letters attached at the end of the GAO report, but the State Department disagreed with them, saying there was a comprehensive plan in place.

A letter from Kathleen Turner, a spokeswoman for the office of the Director of National Intelligence, said that office and the National Counterterrorism Center concurred with the report's assessment that the United States has not met its national security goals in the tribal region but maintained that there was a plan in place.

USAID said that it generally agreed with the report's recommendation for a comprehensive plan but that work in the tribal areas should be guided by the Pakistani government's own FATA Sustainable Development Plan from 2006. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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