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Bush calls Al Qaeda safe haven 'troubling'

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that he was troubled by a US intelligence report that Al Qaeda has become entrenched in a safe haven in Pakistan's tribal region near Afghanistan.

But Bush offered support for Pakistan's embattled president, saying he believes Pervez Musharraf is committed to fighting Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.

Part of the National Intelligence Estimate made public last week found a "persistent and evolving" threat to the United States from Islamic militant groups, especially Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda.

Bush, in his taped weekly radio address, said the report's assessment that Al Qaeda was gaining strength in the tribal region of Pakistan was "one of the most troubling."

The United States, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, led an invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban religious movement that had seized power and to root out bin Laden and his followers.

Musharraf, an army general, has been an important ally to Washington but must contend with a violent campaign by Islamic militants and porous mountain borders that make it hard to halt the flow of fighters, weapons, opium, and other drugs.

The White House has acknowledged that a truce Musharraf reached in September with tribal leaders had not worked.

Bush said Pakistan's tribal leaders had proved unwilling or unable to police the area themselves.

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said US intelligence agencies have warned that the Iraq war was diverting attention from Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. "Our troops and our country need a new policy from this president, not the same old rhetoric," he said in a statement.