Harboring Terrorists

Afghanistan and Pakistan Key to Eliminating al-Qaeda Safe Havens

Senior Policy Analyst Caroline Wadhams outlines an action plan for eliminating al-Qaeda’s power in the Middle East.

The Senate Select Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing today on current, emerging, and future terrorist safe havens. The hearing will certainly look at Afghanistan, which served as a safe haven for the perpetrators of 9/11 and threatens to revert to a terrorist safe haven again. But the Committee will also need to focus on Pakistan, whose frontier region has become a harbor for a strengthening Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The attacks of 9/11 taught the United States a devastating lesson about the risks of terrorist safe havens, no matter how far they are from U.S. borders. al-Qaeda operatives recruited, trained, and organized the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and the September 11th attacks from its harbor in Afghanistan.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom, succeeded in removing the Taliban government from power and stopping Afghanistan from continuing to be a safe haven for al-Qaeda. But instead of being eliminated, much of the Taliban and al-Qaeda moved across the border into Pakistan.

From this area, al-Qaeda has strengthened and increased attacks across the border into Afghanistan. According to Barney Rubin in a recent Foreign Affairs article, “al-Qaeda has succeeded in reestablishing its base by skillfully exploiting the weakness of the state in the Pashtun tribal belt, along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier.”

The Pakistani government has not done enough to aggressively root out these insurgents. In September 2006, the Pakistani government signed a peace agreement with the Taliban and other leaders in North Waziristan, effectively creating a safe haven for terrorists to train and organize. It has also been reported that the Pakistan government has done little to stop infiltration across the border. Pakistani officials report, however, that they destroyed suspected al-Qaeda camps in an air strike on Tuesday, killing up to 20 fighters.

During a recent trip to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Gates asserted that crossborder attacks from Pakistan have significantly increased. Lt. General Karl Eikenberry, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, stated that Taliban attacks against Afghan, the U.S., and coalition forces surged by 200 percent in December. Suicide attacks have also increased to 139 in 2006 from 25 in 2005. Remotely detonated bombs doubled to 1,677 from 783 during the same time period, and armed attacks tripled to 4,532 from 1,558. More than 4,000 people have died this year in Afghanistan, the most violent year since 2001. And military commanders have predicted that attacks will escalate further in the spring.

The United States must increase resources and troops levels for Afghanistan in order to prevent it from slipping back to failure. In order to do this, it will need to focus on both Afghanistan and Pakistan. As Barnett Rubin states, “Few insurgencies with safe havens abroad have ever been defeated.” Increasing pressure on Pakistan to crack down on extremists, thereby eliminating their safehaven, is essential to stabilizing Afghanistan and enhancing U.S. national security.

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Contact Caroline Wadhams for additional information and comments:

For TV, Sean Gibbons, Director of Media Strategy
202.682.1611 or [email protected]

For radio, Theo LeCompte, Media Strategy Manager
202.741.6268 or [email protected]

For print, Trevor Kincaid, Deputy Press Secretary
202.741.6273 or [email protected]

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Caroline Wadhams

Senior Fellow