WASHINGTON — Terror attacks in Pakistan doubled last year, and casualties from terrorism quadrupled, as extremists reasserted their hold in tribal areas and attempted to extend their reach deep into the country, the State Department said in its annual report Wednesday.
There was also a 16 percent increase in terrorist attacks in neighboring Afghanistan in 2007, the report on global terrorism trends said.
It said that al Qaida has proved "adaptable and resilient" and used a cease-fire agreement along the Afghan-Pakistan frontier to reconstitute its capabilities.
Taken together, the findings appear to confirm that the struggle against terrorism in the troubled Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, which many specialists consider the central battleground in the fight against al Qaida and its affiliates, was set back last year.
"Challenges remain," said retired Lt. Gen. Dell Dailey, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator. Instability and the cease-fire agreement in Pakistan "provided al Qaida leadership with the ability to conduct training and operational planning" for targets in the United States and Western Europe, he said.
The grim news in South Asia was tempered by blows against al Qaida in Iraq, and a steep drop in terrorist attacks and fatalities in Iraq in the second half of 2007, the report said. The White House has attributed that drop to the troop buildup that President Bush ordered last year, a claim some analysts have challenged.
Dailey also cited successes in breaking up terror plots in Western Europe and progress against terrorist groups in Southeast Asia, Colombia and elsewhere.
Worldwide, the number of terrorist attacks remained stable last year, at 14,499. The number of victims, both killed and wounded, rose slightly.
While the U.S. government reports such numbers each year, government counterterrorism analysts say they're a poor yardstick for measuring progress against terrorism.
Pakistan, a U.S. ally, was struck by several large-casualty terrorist attacks in its major cities in 2007. And on Dec. 27, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in a suicide bombing in Rawalpindi.
U.S. officials have long criticized the deal struck in September 2006 between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and militants in the North Waziristan tribal agency.
Under the agreement, which collapsed last year, the Pakistani military stopped attacks on the militants, and the militants were supposed to evict foreign jihadists and stop cross-border infiltration into Afghanistan.
Senior U.S. officials say that the deal in fact allowed al Qaida and the Taliban to reconstitute and led to an increase in attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and other top U.S. officials recently expressed concern over Pakistan's renewal of peace talks.
But Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani said Wednesday that comparison of the new government's policy to previous deals is "erroneous."
"Our strategy against global terrorism will be multifaceted," Gillani said in a commentary in the Washington Post. "We will combine the use of force against terrorists and civil dialogue with those who, because of religious or ethnic considerations, were misled into supporting extremists."
Asked why the U.S. government has any more confidence in the latest peace negotiations, Dailey cited the defeat of pro-Taliban political parties in Pakistan's February elections.
"This government has a chance to really move forward in its own security internally," Dailey said. "They certainly know the United States is watching it, and we'll articulate our concerns."
The report — as it does every year — named Iran as the leading state sponsor of terrorism. It charged Iran's Quds Force with supplying weapons and money to the Taliban in Afghanistan and said Tehran provides weapons, funding, training and guidance to militant Iraqi groups attacking U.S.-led forces.
"In this way, Iranian government forces have been responsible for attacks on Coalition forces," it said.
As for al Qaida, the report say the group adapted in 2007 by making greater use of regional groups, particularly the Algeria-based al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which once focused its attacks exclusively on the Algerian government.
While Osama bin Laden is still al Qaida's "ideological figurehead," the report said, Ayman al Zawahiri "has emerged as AQ's strategic and operational planner."