April 18, 2008 in Nation/World

U.S. has no strategy for Pakistan, GAO reports

Josh Meyer Los Angeles Times
 

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has never drafted a comprehensive plan to destroy a resurgent al-Qaida or other militant groups in the tribal areas of Pakistan and has not adequately monitored the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars sent to the Pakistani government to combat the groups, concluded a sharply critical report by an independent government watchdog agency Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office said the administration’s effort has been so ineffective that U.S. Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan Anne W. Patterson has resorted to drafting her own strategic plan for the largely lawless rural region because no one in Washington has sent one.

Meanwhile, the tribal region, which borders Afghanistan, has become such a safe haven for al-Qaida and other Islamist extremist groups that it now poses what might be the greatest terrorist threat to Americans at home and abroad, the GAO said, citing recent testimony from top U.S. officials.

A comprehensive plan for fighting terrorist threats from the tribal areas was called for by a number of government and private-sector agencies, including the 9/11 Commission report in 2004, according to the nonpartisan GAO, which is the investigative arm of Congress. It was also mandated by congressional legislation in 2007 and one reason that Congress created the National Counterterrorism Center, or NCTC, in 2004, the GAO said.

But the NCTC, the White House’s National Security Council and other executive branch departments have never developed a plan that includes all elements of national power – diplomatic, military, intelligence, development assistance, economic and law-enforcement support – according to GAO auditors.

The GAO also concluded that $5.8 billion of the $10.5 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan from 2002 to 2007 was spent on operations in the tribal areas and that 96 percent of that funding reimbursed Pakistan for military operations that have proved largely unsuccessful.

Other U.S. officials and outside experts have reached similar conclusions regarding lax oversight of U.S. counterterrorism aid to Pakistan, saying much of it has been used for military hardware better suited for its decades-old conflict with neighboring India than against small, mobile militant forces hiding in the mountains.

But the GAO report went further, saying that virtually no steps were taken in Washington to assess how the funds for Pakistan were being spent, even as intelligence assessments in recent years warned that al-Qaida was regrouping.

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