WASHINGTON (AFP) — Al-Qaeda militants operating in tribal areas of Pakistan are less secure than in the past when they enjoyed the support of the government of neighboring Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday.
Gates contradicted the view of a US government senior terrorism analyst, who said last week that Al-Qaeda had a stronger, more secure haven in Pakistan than a year ago because it had forged close ties to Pakistani militant groups.
Gates said he disagreed. "Actually, I don't agree with that assessment, because when Al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan, they had the partnership of a government," Gates told ABC television, referring to the former Taliban regime that was toppled by US-led forces in 2001.
"They had ready access to international communications, ready access to travel, and so on. Their circumstances in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and on the Pakistani side of the border are much more primitive.
"And it's much more difficult for them to move around, much more difficult for them to communicate."
But according to Ted Gistaro, national intelligence officer for transnational threats, Al-Qaeda has strengthened its safe haven in the tribal border areas, forcing out elements of Pakistan's government in the area.
"It now has many of the operational and organizational advantages it once enjoyed across the border in Afghanistan, albeit on a smaller and less secure scale," Gistaro said in his speech last week at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which posted his remarks on its website.
Pakistani militant groups have increased their collaboration with Al-Qaeda since 2006, said Gistaro, who oversees terrorism reports from US intelligence agencies.
"While a major focus of these groups is conducting attacks against (NATO-led) coalition forces in Afghanistan, they provide safe haven to Al-Qaeda fighters, collaborate on attacks inside of Pakistan, and support Al-Qaeda's external operations, including against the West."
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