(CNSNews.com) – Countries identified as “terrorist safe havens” in the annual State Department terrorism report released Wednesday include major recipients of U.S. foreign assistance, including military aid.
Pakistan and Lebanon stand out, since in both cases the report indicates that their governments’ approaches towards terrorism are part of the problem.
Although several other key U.S. aid recipients, notably Iraq, Egypt and Afghanistan, are also listed as “safe havens,” in those cases government efforts battling terrorists are noted. Other “safe havens” include countries where large areas are ungoverned, such as Libya and Yemen.
The State Department’s 2016 evaluation does not reflect well on Pakistan in particular, as the report reinforces long-held concerns that while Islamabad combats some terrorist groups it coddles others, allowing their leaders to address supporters and fundraise openly.
Pakistan has long been among the biggest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance. In the FY 2017 budget request it was fifth-biggest recipient, behind Israel, Egypt, Afghanistan and Jordan.
Since 2001 U.S. taxpayers have contributed more than $33 billion to Pakistan, either in direct aid or as reimbursements for counterterrorism efforts.
An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act authored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and passed unanimously last week, requires the administration to certify that Pakistan is not providing military, financial, or logistical support to any terrorists operating in Pakistan or Afghanistan – a step Poe said “forces Pakistan to make a long overdue choice: either go after terrorists or lose millions of dollars of American aid.”
The term “terrorist safe haven” in the report applies to “ungoverned, under-governed, or illgoverned physical areas where terrorists are able to organize, plan, raise funds, communicate, recruit, train, transit, and operate in relative security because of inadequate governance capacity, political will, or both.”
The report states that “numerous terrorist groups” continued to operate from Pakistani territory in 2016, including the Haqqani Network (HQN), Lashkar e-Toiba (LeT), and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
All three are U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs).
HQN, a Taliban faction, is viewed as the most effective terrorist group in the region, and frequently targets U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Among others, HQN is accused of a suicide bombing at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan in 2009, in which seven CIA employees were killed. A declassified Defense Intelligence Agency cable claimed that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency paid the terrorists to carry out the attack.
The other two groups cited, LeT and JeM, were established in Pakistan in the 1980s and 90s and primarily target India.
After being supposedly banned in 2002, LeT changed its name to Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD). It is led by Hafiz Saeed, a U.N.-designated global terrorist, wanted by India for masterminding a terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, in which six Americans were among the 166 victims.
The U.S. and India have been calling on the government to act against Saeed for almost a decade, and he is the subject of a $10 U.S. reward offer.
Pakistani authorities’ approach towards LeT received particular attention in the new report. It said JuD and another LeT wing, Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FiF), were “able to openly engage in fundraising, including in the capital” and that Saeed “continued to address large rallies.”
It acknowledged that Pakistan had, in February this year, proscribed Saeed under anti-terror legislation, “thus severely restricting his freedom of movement.”
However, it said the government has not publicly reversed a 2015 declaration to the effect that neither JuD nor FiF is banned. Last January it place both “under observation” which while short of a ban does allow the government to scrutinize their activities.
The report also said when Pakistan’s National Counterterrorism Authority late last year published a list of banned organizations it did not include JuD, but put it in a separate “under observation” section.
The report did recognize that Pakistan has continued military operations against safe havens in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, but added that “their impact on all terrorist groups was uneven.”
Iran’s proxy thrives in Lebanon
Lebanon, another longstanding key recipient of U.S. aid, also appears in the report’s “safe havens” section.
“The Lebanese government did not take significant action to disarm Hezbollah or eliminate its safe havens on Lebanese territory, nor did it seek to limit Hezbollah’s travel to and from Syria to fight in support of the Assad regime or to and from Iraq,” it said.
The report also stated that Hezbollah – an Iranian-backed, U.S.-designated FTO – has influence over “elements” in the country’s security services, allowing it to operate with relative impunity.
The State Department did say the U.S. last year worked closely with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Internal Security Forces (ISF) to counter terrorist threats within Lebanon and along its border with Syria.
U.S. aid to the LAF and ISF, amounting to some $1.4 billion since 2005, is not uncontroversial. In early 2016, Saudi Arabia announced it was cutting $4 billion in military aid to the two Lebanese entities because of the presence of Hezbollah in Lebanon’s national government.
Like the U.S., the kingdom and other Gulf States view the Iranian-sponsored militia as a terrorist group.
The Obama State Department said at the time the U.S. would not follow the Saudi lead, but would continue to support the LAF and ISF “to ensure that the army continues its role as a legitimate protector of Lebanon’s borders, people, including from extremist threats.”
Its FY 2017 foreign operations budget request included $105 million in foreign military financing for the LAF as well as international military education and training, and economic support funds.
Lebanon’s refusal to disarm Hezbollah is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for “the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias” (resolution 1559 of 2004) and “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that … there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state” (resolution 1701 of 2006).
Other countries and regions identified as “safe havens” are: Somalia, the Trans-Saharan region, the southern Philippines, the seas between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia (the “Sulu/Sulawesi Seas Littoral”), Columbia and Venezuela.