Al-Qaeda making itself at home in Pakistan

According to the senior American terrorism analyst, al-Qaeda has fully rebuilt its safe haven in the tribal areas of Pakistan and has recruited "dozens" of western looking operatives to strike inside the United States.

The New York Times' Mark Mazzeti reports:

The remarks Tuesday by the intelligence analyst, Ted Gistaro, were the most comprehensive assessment of the Qaeda threat by an American official since the National Intelligence Estimate issued last summer, which concluded that Al Qaeda had largely rebuilt its haven in Pakistan's tribal areas.

A year later, Mr. Gistaro said, the problem has only grown worse, in part because of a symbiotic relationship between Qaeda operatives and Pakistani militant groups based in the tribal areas.

"It is a stronger, more comfortable safe haven than it was for them a year ago," said Mr. Gistaro, who supervises all intelligence reports on terrorism at the National Intelligence Council. He made his remarks in a speech here to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Al Qaeda's growing strength inside Pakistan has in recent months prompted new discussions in the Bush administration about using special-operations troops for raids in the tribal areas - an option the White House has long resisted because of the risks.

There is also a growing recognition among senior officials that the Bush administration for years did not take the Qaeda threat in Pakistan seriously enough and relied on President Pervez Musharraf to dismantle networks of militants there.

Did we rely too much on Musharraf to deal with the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda? Of course we did. Perhaps someone out there would like to give us an alternative? The only  other option was to go in there and do it ourselves. And anyone advocating that position is not taking into account the absolute chaos that would have resulted in Pakistan as the extremists would have whipped up the population to an anti-American frenzy. If you thought the hundreds of thousands who hit the streets in Pakistan just because of some Danish cartoons of Mohammed was scary, multiply that by a factor of ten and you get an idea of what Pakistan would have looked like had we gone in to the tribal areas to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

For the same reason, Musharraf never - repeat never - would have given his permission. We were constantly asking him for that permission and it was never forthcoming. Musharraf is no fool and realized full well what a sizable American presence on Pakistani soil would mean.

We can be faulted for placing too much faith in Musharraf. We can be faulted for not leaning on him to have initiated democratic reforms sooner. We can be faulted for not using our billions in military assistance as a club to force him into initiating these reforms. 

But to say that we should have gone in and taken out the terrorists without permission just isn't viable. Now we have to go in anyway - with or without Pakistani permission. And God help the Pakistani government if al-Qaeda is successful in launching an attack on us. We will hold them personally responsible. And you can be sure they will rue that day.
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