Even with the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bigger challenge in the global war on terrorism is the threat posed by extremists in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the commander of U.S. forces in that region said Thursday.
Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, told a group of reporters that Pakistan has been a vital ally in the war on terror and should continue to receive as much U.S. assistance as it needs to defeat extremism.
He added, however, that it was not a matter that could be resolved by U.S. military power.
“It is a battle of ideas as much as it is a military battle,” he said, “and we’ve got to help him fight that battle,” referring to Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who has survived two recent assassination attempts.
“In Saudi Arabia the same thing is taking place, and you see day after day an increase in military operations and terrorist operations in Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi Arabian government is working very hard to defeat the terrorist threat,” Abizaid said.
On Thursday in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, suspected terrorists exchanged fire with Saudi security forces raiding a house, killing several Saudi agents, an Interior Ministry official said. One suspect was arrested.
Saudi authorities have carried out numerous anti-terrorism raids in recent months, particularly since last year’s bombings of two housing compounds for foreigners in Riyadh. Saudi and U.S. officials blamed both on al-Qaida, whose leader Osama bin Laden is a Saudi exile.
Authorities have detained hundreds of people in the crackdown on alleged militants and urged wanted persons to surrender. Saudi officials also have more publicly tried to discourage extremism in the kingdom, airing television footage of alleged militants repenting of their crimes.
Abizaid said the United States must continue working with the Saudis to defeat the extremists, but that, too, is not a problem with a U.S. military solution.
“It’s not the kind of help that the 82nd Airborne brings to the table,” he said, referring to the paratrooper unit that was among the first U.S. forces to enter the Saudi kingdom when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.