updated 2/23/2009 9:36:04 PM ET 2009-02-24T02:36:04

The Defense Department effort to help Pakistan secure its border with Afghanistan and root out Taliban fighters is underfunded by as much as 73 percent — a budget shortfall so severe that it could slow down operations next month, according to a report released Monday.

The conclusion, included in an assessment by the Government Accountability Office, highlights the stark challenges facing the Obama administration as it tries to salvage the war effort.

The Defense Department's "Security Development Program" is aimed at training and equipping more than 10,000 Pakistani "Frontier Corps" fighters for counterinsurgency tasks and is considered a top priority among U.S. officials.

The program received $62.5 million so far this budget year, which began Oct. 1. But defense officials say $167.5 million more is needed before the next budget year begins this fall, according to GAO.

GAO does not say why the program's budget is in trouble. The report states only that as of the end of 2008, "no existing security assistance funds have been redirected" to the program and that without "dedicated long-term funding" the training and equipping of Pakistani forces could slow down by March.

The Defense Department did not immediately provide comment.

Uptick in violence
After the U.S. invasion in Afghanistan in 2001, Taliban and al-Qaida fighters retreated across the mountainous 373-mile border into Pakistan's unpoliced tribal areas. Intelligence officials have said they believe if another terrorist attack were to be launched against Americans like Sept. 11, it would almost certainly originate from that region.

More recently, military officials have cited an uptick in violence in Afghanistan, which they attribute in part to the lack of security along the border with Pakistan.

According to GAO, the U.S. has given Pakistan more than $12 billion in military and economic aid to address the problem. But, GAO concludes, the threat remains and various U.S. agencies still lack a coordinated strategy.

"Despite six years of U.S. and Pakistani government efforts, al-Qaida has regenerated its ability to attack the United States and continues to maintain a safe haven" in Pakistan near its border, GAO reports.

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