Officials: Hunt For Al Qaeda Ineffective

Despite billions of dollars spent and more than 500 U.S. soldiers having been killed in Afghanistan in the hunt for al Qaeda, there's increasing evidence that the terror group is making a comeback just across the border in Pakistan's lawless tribal territories, where the Pakistani government has little or no control.

Pakistan's latest attempt to oust al Qaeda and the Taliban from their safe havens in the frontier area has been, according to U.S. officials, ineffective.

Pentagon consultant Seth Jones of Rand Corp. says it's not even close to what's needed, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.

One militant leader was actually tipped off to the coming offensive by sympathizers within the Pakistani military.

"What's needed in the tribal area is a much longer approach, clearing territory and holding it," Jones said.

This offensive is focused in the area of the Khyber Pass, where the Taliban publicly execute suspected American spies and mount cross-border raids into Afghanistan, Martin reports.

"The command-and-control structure of every major insurgent group is in the Pakistani side of the border," Jones said. "So this is critical to success in Afghanistan."

In June, more American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

"It's reasonable to argue that the situation is far worse today than it was four or five years ago," said CBS News homeland security consultant Paul Kurtz.

That goes not only for Afghanistan, but also for the U.S. "The most likely area that's going to be linked to an attack in the United States is coming from this area," Jones said.

U.S. troops call in air and artillery strikes at anyone shooting at them from Pakistan, commandos sometimes cross the border on covert operations aimed at finding Osama bin Laden, and unmanned predator drones launch missiles at senior al Qaeda leaders - but the sanctuaries remain, Martin reports.

"I don't think the limited strikes from Afghanistan or predator strikes will ever accomplish what is needed that is a clearing of territory and holding it," Jones said.

With the war against terror now in its seventh year, U.S. officials acknowledge there is no real strategy for digging al Qaeda and the Taliban out of their safe havens, Martin reports.

So why haven't members of the military been more aggressive about going after these terrorists in Pakistan?

Because U.S. Government policy wouldn't allow them to. What it's meant is they've had to stay on the Afghan side of the border and watch militants come across the border, shoot at them, kill them, bomb them and escape to safety and they could do nothing about it, CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan reports.

And the U.S. government's relation with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has something to do with it. Now that his power has been weakened significantly, it could leave a window of opportunity for the U.S. to change its strategy.

As Logan says: "It's also a critical window when you look at the reality of what's developed in the tribal areas. However, there's a power vacuum in Pakistan. The government is ... divided, there's no consensus. So it's a very difficult time for us as well. But it's an opportunity that really we can't afford to waste."

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.