WASHINGTON, April 19, 2008— -- Congress plans to press the Bush administration aggressively to justify its policy in Afghanistan following a nonpartisan report that concludes that the administration "lacks a comprehensive plan" to take on al Qaeda in its stronghold.
"I want to shine light on this," Rep. Howard Berman, the California Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Relations Committee, told ABC News today. "I want the American people to know what is not happening, and I believe that pressure from that public scrutiny will force this administration and certainly the next administration to make a 180-degree change."
Berman has scheduled a hearing for May 7 to grill administration officials.
His concern follows a report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, that concludes, "No comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals ... has been developed" in Pakistan's lawless tribal region along the Afghan border.
The Bush administration does not have such a plan, even though it was called for by the 9/11 Commission and was mandated under a 2007 law, the GAO report said.
The report pulls no punches. It concludes that six years after President Bush pledged to take Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," al Qaeda has "regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven" in Pakistan's border region.
"For six years now, we have known where Al Qaeda is based. The administration has announced over and over again they have a policy to go after Al Qaeda," the GAO report said. "The 9/11 commission said nothing is more important than a coherent strategy to smash this security threat, to break these safe havens. The congress has passed legislation mandating that. Notwithstanding the administration's own words, the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, and congressional law, the agencies involved have failed to implement any kind of effective security."
The United States has spent $10.5 billion in Pakistan since 2002, nearly all of it on the Pakistani military, which has essentially subcontracted the war there. But Pakistan has never fully controlled the tribal territory and has been unable to stop al Qaeda's resurgence.
"It was a foolishness from the start to believe that Pakistan could go into that tribal area and do our dirty work for us," Michael Scheuer, former top CIA expert on al Qaeda and author of "Marching Toward Hell," told ABC News. "Anyone could have told this government on Sept. 12, 2001, if you're going to get Bin Laden, if he gets into Pakistan, you're going to have to do it yourself, because the Pakistanis can't do it without destabilizing their country to the point of civil war."
Intelligence officials, including CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden, have recently warned that al Qaeda is now using that safe haven to train recruits for attacks on the West. But the U.S. military has been largely focused on Iraq, where U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus has said al Qaeda now poses only a secondary threat behind the Shiite militias now battling the Iraqi government.
"The next threat is likely to radiate from Pakistan and Afghanistan, to come into our country. And we need to be focused in all three areas -- not centrally focused only on Iraq," former House Intelligence Committee Member and former 9/11 Commissioner member Tim Roemer said.
A sign of the resurgence of al Qaeda and its allies the Taliban came today in a video shown on an Arab satellite television station showing Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, who has been missing for two months. The Taliban said they are holding him hostage.
The Bush administration acknowledges it has a problem.
"We have more work to do there and we need to do it," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Friday.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack elaborated further.
"It's still a source of deep concern for the United States government as a place where violent extremists are to some extent able to operate. And we have a program of cooperation with the Pakistani government to try to address the fact that this is an ungoverned area of Pakistan," he said.
American commanders have reportedly sought to act more directly across the Pakistani border. But the administration, wary of destabilizing Pakistan's fragile government, has so far allowed only limited cross-border attacks. The New York Times reported on its Web site that the latest efforts have also been rebuffed.