Time to focus on Pakistan

US intelligence officials agree Al Qaeda has found a safe haven in Pakistan, yet US politicians remain preoccupied with Iraq and Iran.

The next president of the United States will face real and serious national security challenges on a multitude of fronts, with al-Qaida at the top of the list. Nearly seven years after 9/11, its media outreach programme broadcasts messages on the airwaves and the internet, attempting to radicalise unaffiliated sympathisers into violent action. Regional groups in Iraq, Algeria and elsewhere place themselves under its brand in an effort to magnify their importance and gain funding as terrorist franchises. The threat from al-Qaida is diffuse, but US and foreign intelligence agencies have reached a strikingly unanimous conclusion that the core organisational leadership has re-formed itself.

Its location? Pakistan.

Al-Qaida has, in the words of the US director for national intelligence’s February 2008 Annual Threat Assessment, "retained or regenerated key elements of its capability, including top leadership, operational mid-level lieutenants and de facto safe haven in Pakistan’s border area with Afghanistan". Top officials at the CIA, state department and Joint Chiefs of Staff have all echoed this assessment in recent months. And under questioning from the Senate armed services committee at his confirmation hearing for the position of Centcom commander, which carries responsibility for Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Iraq, General David Petraeus finally added his voice to this warning chorus as well.

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Colin Cookman

Policy Analyst