27 February 2007
Intelligence Officials Target Terrorist Safe Havens
Al-Qaida's next generation training in Iraq, Afghan-Pakistan region, Africa
Washington –- Nations must do more to prevent terrorists from establishing safe havens in lawless corners of the world, say top U.S. intelligence officials.
“Many nation states are unable to provide good governance or sustain the rule of law within their borders,” Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee February 27.
This sets the conditions for creating “failed states, proxy states, terrorist safe havens, and ungoverned regions that endanger the international community and its citizens,” he said.
McConnell, who recently succeeded Ambassador John Negroponte as head of 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, was joined by Lieutenant General Michael Maples of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Thomas Fingar, who chairs the National Intelligence Council, to deliver an assessment of current and emerging national security threats.
Terrorism remains the top threat to U.S. security, and al-Qaida, which is rebuilding itself and strengthening its ties to affiliated groups in the Middle East, Africa and Europe, is the intelligence community’s pre-eminent challenge, they said. Although conventional explosives are the terrorist’s weapon of choice, Maples warned that intelligence agencies receive reports that al-Qaida continues to seek chemical, biological and nuclear weapons for use in future attacks.
With the help of allies such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Kingdom, Maples said, the United States successfully has disrupted attacks, such as the 2006 plot to bomb U.S.-bound trans-Atlantic flights, and brought several senior al-Qaida operatives to justice, such as al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi.
But while 75 percent of al-Qaida’s leadership has been killed or captured, McConnell said that a new generation of terrorists is training in Iraq, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and East Africa.
In Iraq, Maples said, al-Qaida accounts for a fraction of the overall violence, but its focus on executing large-scale, mass casualty bombings has magnified the group’s impact on the country’s complex security situation by accelerating Sunni-Shia violence.
“Conflict in Iraq is in a self-sustaining cycle, in which violent acts increasingly generate retaliation,” he said. “Insecurity rationalizes and justifies militias, in particular Shia militias, which increase fears in the Sunni-Arab community. The result is additional support or at least acquiescence to insurgents and terrorists, such as al-Qaida in Iraq.”
Maples told senators that Iraq’s Shia militias have been discovered training in neighboring Iran as well as in facilities operated by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
In Afghanistan, McConnell said that both al-Qaida and the Taliban maintain “critical sanctuaries” in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. Eliminating these strongholds will be top priorities this year, said intelligence officials, as well as breaking the link between militants and local warlords profiting from drug trafficking.
While praising the work of neighboring Pakistan, McConnell criticized President Pervez Musharraf for making agreements with local tribal leaders who since have allowed the Taliban and al-Qaida to regroup.
“The president of Pakistan believed that he could be more effective by signing this peace agreement,” he said. “And in our point of view, capabilities of al-Qaida for training and so on increased.”
McConnell's comments came the day after Vice President Cheney met with Musharraf in Islamabad to discuss security along the border region. “We believe [Pakistan] could do more,” McConnell added. (See related article.)
Al-Qaida also remains determined to exploit instability in Somalia, the officials said, making East Africa a region where the intelligence community is working to build up its supply of analysts and area experts.
Fingar said terrorists affiliated with Hezbollah are known to be active in the “Tri-border Region” straddling Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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