Critical Counter-Terror Op Is 'Makeshift'

Critical Counter-Terror Op Is 'Makeshift'

Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde are stirring up attention with their piece in the morning's New York Times, "Amid Policy Disputes, Qaeda Grows in Pakistan." As well it should. The return of attention to the region is long overdue - it's been nearly three months since Ambassador Ryan Crocker admitted to the Senate Foreign Relations committee, under probing questions from committee chair Senator Joe Biden, that the greater threat to American security was "al Qaeda in the Pakistan/Afghanistan border area." Casualties in the region are on the rise - in May, they eclipsed the toll in Iraq - and pro-Taliban forces have regrouped and are mounting military offensives of their own.

But even as urgency mounts, the administration continues to pay the region short shrift. So while Mazzetti and Rohde get credit for exposing the bureaucratic struggles and the bitter disagreements that have plagued the anti-terror effort, it's also worth noting that the two reporters lay bare precisely how little attention is being paid to the escalating troubles along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.

The picture they present does not speak well of where administration priorities should be, describing the current outlay of resources "makeshift":

There was nowhere to house an expanding headquarters staff, so giant Quonset huts were erected outside the cafeteria on the C.I.A.'s leafy Virginia campus to house a new team assigned to the bin Laden mission. In Pakistan, the new operation was staffed not only with C.I.A. operatives drawn from around the world, but also with recent graduates of "the Farm," the agency's training center at Camp Peary in Virginia.

"We had to put people out in the field who had less than ideal levels of experience," one former senior C.I.A. official said. "But there wasn't much to choose from."

Rookies in huts? How did it come to be that the greatest threat facing our national security end up as an afterthought?

One reason for this, according to two former intelligence officials directly involved in the Qaeda hunt, was that by 2006 the Iraq war had drained away most of the C.I.A. officers with field experience in the Islamic world. "You had a very finite number" of experienced officers, said one former senior intelligence official. "Those people all went to Iraq. We were all hurting because of Iraq."

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