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US Official Says Terror Safe-Havens in Pakistan Remain a Challenge


A top counterterrorism official says the United States has had a mixed record of success in the fight against al-Qaida terrorists. President Bush's nominee to run the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, said Pakistan could do more to crackdown on terror safe-havens, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Michael Leiter, who has served as Acting Director of the National Counterterrosim Center since November of last year and is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate, listed a number of successes in the fight against terrorism, including tracking and disrupting plots.

But he said more must be done to thwart al-Qaida terrorists, particularly in the Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

"We have clearly not succeeded in stopping core al-Qaida plotting. We are better at disrupting it, but we have not disrupted the senior leadership that exist in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), and we have also not stopped the organization from promulgating a message, which has successfully gained them more recruits," he said.

Leiter says the United States is committed to working with Pakistan on the problem of safe-havens, and says success rests with the Pakistani government.

But some Democrats remain skeptical about Pakistan's ability or willingness to address the issue, prompting this exchange with Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat:

"WYDEN: Do you think any time soon the Pakistani government will be capable of taking away al-Qaida safe-havens in that area?

LEITER: I think there is much more the government of Pakistan could do."

Congressional Democrats are also critical of a U.S. aid program that has reimbursed Pakistan's military nearly $6 billion since 2001 for antiterrorism operations along its border with Afghanistan.

The Government Accountability Office Tuesday released a preliminary report saying Pakistan has been unable to defeat terrorists inside its borders despite the U.S. aid program. The GAO says Pakistani security forces are not structured to target an insurgency and face equipment and training shortages.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the issue Wednesday.

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