US President George W. Bush said yesterday that the US must continue fighting in Iraq and support Pakistan's battle against al-Qaeda and other extremists entrenched along its rugged frontier.
In his weekly radio address, taped before he underwent a colonoscopy, Bush cited the latest National Intelligence Estimate, which said al-Qaeda had managed to establish a "safe haven" in the tribal areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.
Bush said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reached an agreement last fall that gave leaders in his nation's tribal areas more responsibility for policing their own territories. But the US intelligence report said that agreement had backfired and had actually given al-Qaeda new opportunities to set up terror training camps, improve international communications and bolster operations.
"Unfortunately, tribal leaders were unwilling and unable to go after al-Qaeda or the Taliban," Bush said. "President Musharraf recognizes the agreement has not been successful or well-enforced and is taking active steps to correct it. ... Pakistani forces are in the fight and many have given their lives. The United States supports them in these efforts."
Violence has spread from Pakistan's tribal areas to the nation's capital in Islamabad and elsewhere since last week, when militants abandoned last year's peace deal they signed with the government to stop attacks on troops and officials. Suicide attacks, shootings and a siege and army raid on a mosque in Islamabad have killed about 289 people in Pakistan so far this month, raising concern about the threat posed by Islamic extremists and the country's political instability.
Bush also used his radio address to argue that keeping US troops in Iraq is central to the security of the nation.
"The men who run al-Qaeda are determined, capable and ruthless," Bush said. "They would be in a far stronger position to attack our people if America's military, law enforcement, intelligence services and other elements of our government were not engaged in a worldwide effort to stop them."
Pressure is building on the Bush administration to change course in the war, now in its fifth year and with a death toll of at least 3,628 members of the US military.
On Friday, White House press secretary Tony Snow said that despite widespread skepticism in Congress, there have been significant results one month after the US completed a buildup of 21,500 additional combat troops.
So far, Republican lawmakers have been mostly united in rejecting Democratic demands to set a deadline for troop withdrawals. On Wednesday, they helped scuttle a bill by Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed that would have ordered troops to start leaving this fall and end major combat by April 30. The legislation would allow some troops to remain behind to conduct counterterrorism, protect US assets and train the Iraqis.
``This week, the Senate had the opportunity to do what most Americans want us to do: change course in Iraq,'' Levin said yesterday in the Democrats' weekly address. ``Although a bipartisan majority of the senators supported an amendment to do just that, we were blocked by the Republican leadership from voting on it.''
Levin added, ``President Bush claims that we must keep paying this terrible price to protect America from terrorism, but even the administration's own intelligence experts are saying that during the war in Iraq there has been an increase in the threat of terrorism and that al-Qaeda has regained its strength.''
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