Top US security personnel warns another Qaeda attack can come from Pak's FATA

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Washington, Apr 21 : Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen has said that the next attack on the US was likely to come from Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and that US' preoccupation with Iraq should not cloud American military planners' 'vision of threats' emanating from FATA.

He said FATA was the place where al Qaeda was regrouping itself.

"Clearly, it's where I would pick if I were going to pick a place where the next attack is going to come from. That's where Al Qaeda is, that's where their leadership is, and we're going to have to figure out a way to resolve that challenge," the Dawn quoted Mullen as saying.

Mullen said this at a talk at Washington's conservative Heritage Foundation. He pointed out that the US did not have enough troops to undertake another major operation. He noted that while President Bush had pledged to send more troops to Afghanistan, their availability depended on the situation in Iraq.

His assessment of the situation in FATA reflects a new threat perception in America in which FATA occupies a central position, reported the Dawn.

Last week, President George W. Bush told ABC News that if another 9/11 attack were to be launched on the US it would most likely be planned in Pakistan.

Earlier, CIA Director Michael Hayden said that Al Qaida had regrouped in the tribal borderland and appears to be planning another attack on the United States.

Another key US intelligence official, FBI Director Robert Mueller, warned that Al Qaeda operatives hiding in the tribal belt "won't go away quietly in the night."

This sudden emphasis on Al Qaeda's presence in tribal areas followed bitter criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq policies in Congress and the media. The critics pointed out that 9/11 attacks were planned in Afghanistan, and not Iraq, and by diverting US resources to Iraq the Bush administration gave Al Qaeda a free hand to re-establish itself in FATA.

The administration countered this criticism by claiming that the war in Iraq was actually a war against Al Qaeda but there were not many buyers for this theory, which forced the administration to refocus on the threat from the tribal belt. During the last 10 days, the new threat perception - Al Qaeda leaders in FATA planning another 9/11 - had been discussed at dozens of gatherings in Washington.

At briefings at the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, administration officials have also agreed with the general perception that the threat was real and that the United States cannot afford to ignore it. This was also emphasised at Congressional hearings where some lawmakers advised the US administration to take immediate steps to deal with this threat.

Some in the media and at Washington's think-tanks went a step ahead and urged the administration to take direct military action against suspected Al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan's tribal belt.

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