30 March 2008
The head of the US Central Intelligence Agency says al-Qaida has established a safe haven in the tribal areas near the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan,
The CIA Director, Air Force General Michael Hayden, says if there were another terrorist attack against the United States, it would almost certainly originate from that region.
"What I can tell you about is the situation along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which presents a clear and present danger to Afghanistan, to Pakistan, and to the West in general and to the United States in particular," said Michael Hayden.
General Hayden, interviewed on NBC's Meet the Press, said al-Qaida has been using the advantage of that safe haven to train operatives who "look Western."
"But it's very clear to us that al-Qaida has been able over the past 18 months or so to establish a safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area that they have not enjoyed before, that they are bringing operatives into that region for training, operatives that wouldn't attract your attention if they were going through the Customs line at Dulles [International Airport, near Washington] with you when you're coming back from overseas," he said.
The CIA chief said the situation in the border region has resulted from a 2006 agreement that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reached with some tribal lords, that the Pakistani army would leave that region alone.
"Absolutely disastrous," said Hayden. "To be fair to President Musharraf, in different times and in different circumstances, all of us would think that what he had decided to do was wise, was patient, was what he needed to do over the long term. The problem was what was happening over the short term. He was, in fact, pulling forces and the writ of the Pakistani government back from the tribal region, and al-Qaida and the Taleban were having more and more free rein there."
General Hayden said he believes Osama bin Laden is in the border area, and that the al-Qaida leader is an "iconic figure," but not involved in the operations of the group. The CIA head said much of al-Qaida's operational force consists of Egyptians. He said every effort is being made to capture or kill the terrorist group's leadership "from the top to the bottom."
General Hayden would neither confirm nor deny a recent US newspaper report that the United States is increasing attacks against al-Qaida suspects in the border region in anticipation that President Musharraf's power will diminish soon. But he said the United States has not had a better partner in the war against terror than the Pakistani government.