WASHINGTON The United States has failed to eliminate the terrorist threat in Pakistan's tribal areas and has no comprehensive plan to do so, U.S. government investigators said on Thursday.
Instead, Washington has relied on Pakistan's military to address U.S. national security goals since 2002, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said, adding that al Qaeda has now regrouped in the region called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
"The United States has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan's FATA," the congressional investigations agency said in a report.
"No comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals in the FATA has been developed, as stipulated by the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, recommended by the independent 9/11 Commission, and mandated by congressional legislation."
U.S. officials rejected the findings. The Pentagon said that while it supports development of a comprehensive plan, the U.S. government had a full strategy coordinated with the Pakistani government to target areas used by al Qaeda.
"To suggest we don't have a strategy is a mischaracterization," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. "It's a very dynamic situation and we have daily interactions."
But Democrats latched onto the report as evidence of a failed counterterrorism policy and called on the White House to refocus on the hunt for al Qaeda in Pakistan, where U.S. officials say Osama bin Laden is likely hiding.
"It is appalling that there is still no comprehensive, interagency strategy concerning this critical region, and this lack of foresight is harming U.S. national security," said Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat who chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the United States has given Pakistan more than $10.5 billion for its counterterrorism efforts. Of that, about $5.8 billion has been spent on Pakistan's operations in the border area, according to GAO.
U.S. aircraft have also reportedly fired missiles at al Qaeda and Taliban targets in the tribal area.
But the GAO said that beyond limited efforts, the U.S. government has not developed a plan that incorporates military, intelligence, diplomatic, development, economic and law enforcement activities in Pakistan's tribal area.
"U.S. reliance on Pakistan's military stemmed from 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," the GAO said.
"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."
The report said the State Department, Pentagon and USAID had begun to develop department-specific plans and hold interagency meetings, but still did not have a full plan.
"As of April 2008, not all of these efforts have been approved in Washington, funding shortfalls exist, and support from the recently elected government of Pakistan is unknown," GAO said.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Editing by Chris Wilson)