Combating Terrorism:

U.S. Government Strategies and Efforts to Deny Terrorists Safe Haven

GAO-11-713T: Published: Jun 3, 2011. Publicly Released: Jun 3, 2011.

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Jacquelyn L. Williams Bridgers
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This testimony discusses GAO's report on U.S. efforts to address terrorist safe havens. Terrorist safe havens provide security for terrorists, allowing them to train recruits and plan operations. U.S. officials have concluded that various terrorist incidents demonstrate the dangers emanating from terrorist safe havens, such as the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, planned, in part, from safe havens in Pakistan, and the attempted airliner bombing on December 25, 2009, planned from safe havens in Yemen. The discovery of Osama Bin Laden in a compound in Pakistan, from which, according to U.S. officials, he played an active role in al Qaeda focused on attacking the United States, makes this hearing particularly timely. The testimony today focuses on (1) U.S. national strategies related to addressing terrorist safe havens, (2) terrorist safe havens identified by the Department of State (State) and the threats emanating from these havens, and (3) the extent to which the U.S. government has identified efforts to deny terrorists safe havens.

We found that U.S. national strategies emphasize the importance of denying safe haven to terrorists and that, since 2006, State has annually identified terrorist safe havens in its "Country Reports on Terrorism." The United States highlights the denial of safe haven to terrorists as a key national security concern in several U.S. government strategic documents. For example, National Security Strategies released in 2002, 2006, and 2010 emphasize the importance of denying safe haven to terrorists. The current "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism," which was last updated September 2006, also stresses the importance of eliminating terrorist safe havens. The document identifies eliminating terrorist safe havens as a priority action against which all elements of national power--including military, diplomatic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement--should be applied. According to National Security Staff officials, an updated "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism" is currently being drafted and its release is expected in the coming months. However, these officials stated that denying safe haven to terrorists will remain an important element of U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Since 2006, State has identified existing terrorist safe havens in a dedicated chapter of its "Country Reports on Terrorism." According to U.S. agencies, a variety of groups that pose threats to the United States operate in countries identified by State as terrorist safe havens. For example: (1) Pakistan: Various terrorist organizations operate in Pakistan. First, al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was located in a compound in Pakistan from which U.S. officials have stated he was actively involved in planning attacks against the United States. The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for several attacks against U.S. interests, including an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar in April 2010. (2) Yemen: The foreign terrorist organization al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is based in Yemen. In response to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, AQAP issued a press release vowing revenge against the United States. (3) Somalia: Al-Shabaab is a foreign terrorist organization active in Somalia. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for several bombings and shootings throughout Somalia, as well as the July 2010 suicide bomb attacks in Kampala, Uganda, which killed more than 70 people. The U.S. government has not fully addressed reporting requirements to identify U.S. efforts to deny safe haven to terrorists. Congress required the President to submit reports outlining U.S. government efforts to deny or disrupt terrorist safe havens in two laws--the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010. The IRTPA required the President to submit a report to Congress that includes an outline of the strategies, tactics, and tools the U.S. government uses to disrupt or eliminate the security provided to terrorists by terrorist safe havens, and recommended that State update the report annually, to the extent feasible, in its "Country Reports on Terrorism." In response to these provisions, State submitted a report to Congress in April 2006, which it has updated annually as part of its "Country Reports on Terrorism." These reports include a section on U.S. strategies, tactics, and tools that identifies several U.S. efforts to address terrorist safe havens. In the "Country Reports on Terrorism" released in August 2010, State identified several U.S. efforts for addressing terrorist safe havens, including programs such as State's Regional Strategic Initiative and Antiterrorism Assistance programs. However, State's August 2010 "Country Reports on Terrorism" does not fully identify U.S. efforts to deny terrorists safe haven.

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