Western-appearing operatives being trained at Pak-Afghan border, warns CIA Director

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Washington, Mar 31 : The tribal areas along Pakistan-Afghanistan border are being used as a training ground for "western appearing" operatives who could easily enter the US without being detected as compared to others who might attract attention, CIA Director Michael Hayden has said.

According to him, the improved intelligence techniques in the region were due to "good cooperation from a variety of allies" that the CIA had received in Pakistan's tribal regions.

Hayden said that over the past 18 months the network had established a safe haven in tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan where they were preparing militants for attacks against the West. "The situation in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan presents a clear and present danger to the West," he added.

"They are bringing operatives into that region for training - operatives that, a phrase I would use, wouldn't attract your attention if they were going through the customs line at Dulles (airport near Washington DC) with you," The Nation quoted Hayden as saying in an interview with the NBC television.

He further said, "the new recruits look western and would be able to come into this country without attracting the kind of attention that others might."

Earlier, in February, the US intelligence had in the annual threat assessment reported that it had detected an influx of new western recruits to Al-Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas since 2006.

Hayden also stressed that while he was confident Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden was still hiding out near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the Saudi-born fighter no longer has operational control over the terror network. "Let me use (the term) iconic figure. His presence ... gives a certain punch, a certain image, to the global movement. But he's not operationally involved. An awful lot of the operational force of Al-Qaeda - the Arabic name is the name and then often finished by the country they are from - an awful lot of them are the Egyptians," he said.

Al-Qaeda's number two is the Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who the US director of national intelligence Michael McConnell last September called "the real intellectual leader of Al-Qaeda."

Hayden said Osama, Zawahiri and others remain top targets for US forces. "Operationally, we are turning every effort to kill or capture that leadership from the top to the bottom," he said.

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