WASHINGTON, Nov 14: CIA director Michael Hayden has warned that every major terrorist threat confronting the world has ties to Pakistan.
In a speech to the Atlantic Council on Thursday, Mr Hayden also claimed that Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was hiding in Fata.
“Let me be very clear. Today, virtually every major terrorist threat that my agency is aware of has threads back to the tribal areas,” Mr Hayden told the Washington-based think-tank.
The CIA director, however, acknowledged that Bin Laden was isolated from the day-to-day operations of Al Qaeda, although the organisation was still the greatest threat to the US.
“If there is a major strike on this country (the US), it will bear the fingerprints of
Al Qaeda,” he warned.
Gen Hayden, however, depicted Al Qaeda chief as an extremely frustrated man who spent all his time trying to survive and had no time for guiding his militants.
“[Bin Laden] is putting a lot of energy into his own survival, a lot of energy into his own security,” the CIA chief said. “He appears to be largely isolated from the day-to-day operations of the organisation he nominally heads.”
Capturing Bin Laden, however, remained the US government’s top priority, he added.
“His death or capture clearly would have a significant impact on the confidence of his followers - both core Al Qaeda and unaffiliated extremists throughout the world,” he said.
After depicting Pakistan as the hub of all major terrorist activities in the world, the CIA chief also conceded that Pakistan faced a complex situation.
“While the problem looks easy from thousands of miles away, it’s extremely difficult up close because of the tribal issues,” he said.
The CIA chief said he believed the Pakistani government had been “extraordinarily helpful” in responding to this challenge. Their plan, which they started to implement in 2006, to slowly expand their reach over the Fata would have been wise and far-reaching were it not for the extreme urgency of the threat, he added.
“We’ve killed and captured more top Al Qaeda operatives with the support of the Pakistani security forces than anywhere else in the world. What remains unclear is what the end game is,” he added.
According to him, Al Qaeda was chased out of Yemen in the 1990s only to reconstitute in Afghanistan. It was run out of Afghanistan in 2001, only to disperse, setting up a rump headquarters in Pakistan and declare Iraq the “central front” of its effort.
“Where, then, does it stop? Or is this simply a case of perpetual penalty kicks?” he asked.
Mr Hayden warned that despite the losses the terrorist group had to incur after 9/11, Al Qaeda was still spreading in Africa and the Mid-East.
The CIA believes progress has been made in curbing Al Qaeda’s activities in the Philippines, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Other areas, however, are showing an increase in activity, including East Africa, the Maghreb, Yemen and Pakistan.
Mr Hayden claimed that in Pakistan Al Qaeda had established safe haven and was training a “bench of skilled operatives.”
Gen Hayden was appointed CIA director in May 2006 by President George Bush but it’s not clear whether he will retain his job when President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.