Hunt harder for Al Qaeda, Britain urges Pakistan

Associated Press / November 30, 2009

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LONDON - Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged Pakistan yesterday to intensify its hunt for Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders.

Brown told the BBC that he had hoped to see more progress in the search for bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Brown also said the world should refocus on the threat posed by the terrorist group.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has also criticized Pakistani officials for failing to press the hunt for Al Qaeda.

Brown said that as international forces are making efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan must take action on its side of the border.

A new Senate report released last week found that bin Laden was within reach of US troops in December 2001, when he and his bodyguards walked out of Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains and into Pakistan’s tribal area.

The report asserted that the failure to kill or capture bin Laden at his most vulnerable in December 2001 has had lasting consequences beyond the fate of one man.

Bin Laden’s escape laid the foundation for today’s reinvigorated Afghan insurgency and inflamed the internal strife now endangering Pakistan, it said.

Staff members for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority prepared the report at the request of the chairman, Senator John F. Kerry, as President Obama prepares to boost US troops in Afghanistan.

The Massachusetts senator and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate has long argued that the Bush administration missed a chance to get the Al Qaeda leader and top deputies when they were holed up in the forbidding mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan only three months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Although limited to a review of military operations eight years old, the report could also be read as a cautionary note for those resisting an increased troop presence there now.

More pointedly, it seeks to affix a measure of blame for the state of the war today on military leaders under former president George W. Bush, specifically Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary and his top military commander, Tommy Franks.

“Removing the Al Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat,’’ the report says. “But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide. The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism.’’