Noting that the tribal areas of Pakistan continue to be used as a base for terrorist organisations, a top US counter-terrorism official has said that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) adds to the "overall high threat level" in South Asia.
In his remarks on 'al Qaeda and its affiliates' at the New America Foundation on Thursday, Daniel Benjamin, co-coordinator, Office of the Coordinator for Counter-terrorism at the State Department, said that Al Qaeda's core leadership continues to be in Pakistan.
"Although, I would not characterise it as an affiliate, though its ideology bears many similarities, the continued menace of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a large, well-armed, technically capable terrorist group, adds to the overall high threat level in South Asia," Benjamin said.
He said Pakistan today is more willing to take on extremist groups that directly threaten Pakistani targets, such as military bases, intelligence offices, and police stations. "The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan is a prime example of such a group. We continue to press Pakistan for increased action against that group, to engage other allies on the dangers posed by LeT, and to encourage all parties to take appropriate action against these groups," he said.
Benjamin said US and Pakistan counter-terrorism cooperation has put considerable pressure on al Qaeda (AQ), and Pakistani military operations aimed at eliminating militant strongholds in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have degraded much of the group's abilities.
"As a result, the AQ core has had significant leadership losses and is finding it more difficult to raise money, train recruits, and plan attacks outside of the region. But although AQ core is clearly weaker, it retains the capability to conduct regional and transnational attacks," Benjamin said.
"In addition, AQ has forged closer ties with some of the other militant groups in the region - for example Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Haqqani Network - and this has provided the group with additional capabilities to draw on," he said.
Benjamin said everyone recognises, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas region and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province continue to be used as a base for terrorist organisations operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Pakistani security forces have undertaken efforts to counter these threats.
Pakistan has made some progress on the CT (counter-terrorism) front against other groups, specifically against Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). But the challenge remains to make these gains durable and sustainable, he said.
"We are working closely with the Government of Pakistan on a range of counter-terrorism-related capacity building projects, including numerous training courses for Pakistani police, which are administered by the State Department's Diplomatic Security bureau," he said.