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GAO: Terrorists operate freely in Pakistan

/ Source: The Associated Press

Terrorists are still operating freely in Pakistan along the country's Afghanistan border, despite the U.S. giving Pakistan more than $10.5 billion in military and economic aid, according to a government watchdog agency.

The Government Accountability Office says in a report released Thursday that the U.S. lacks a comprehensive plan to deal with the terrorist threat.

Democrats called the report appalling because of congressional mandates demanding the nation do more to coordinate efforts by federal agencies.

"For anyone wondering how we're doing in the fight to get the terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11, this report pretty much says it all," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

Some federal agencies, including the Defense Department, agreed with the findings. But the State Department disagreed, saying that a comprehensive strategy does exist and is being implemented.

Linchpin in anti-terrorism strategy
Pakistan is widely seen as the linchpin in the U.S. anti-terrorism strategy.

After the U.S. invasion in Afghanistan, Taliban and al-Qaida fighters retreated across the border into Pakistan's unpoliced tribal areas. But since 2002, the U.S. has relied mostly on the Pakistani military to go after the terrorist networks because of a desire to respect Pakistan's sovereignty.

Instead, the U.S. provided $10.5 billion in aid Pakistan since then, with about $5.8 billion identified specifically for efforts along the border, mostly to reimburse Pakistan for military operations, according to GAO.

Federal officials told the GAO that some 120,000 military and paramilitary forces were deployed by Pakistan and hundreds of suspected al-Qaida operatives have been killed or captured.

"However, we found broad agreement ... that al-Qaida had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan's" border area, GAO stated.