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Bush says U.S. must help strengthen Pakistan

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WASHINGTON — President Bush said Saturday that the United States must continue fighting in Iraq and support Pakistan's battle against al-Qaida and other extremists entrenched along its rugged frontier.

In his weekly radio address, taped before he had a colonoscopy at Camp David, Md., Bush cited the latest National Intelligence Estimate. It said al-Qaida had managed to establish a "safe haven" in the tribal areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

Bush said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reached an agreement last fall that gave leaders in his nation's tribal areas more responsibility for policing their own territories. But the U.S. intelligence report said that agreement had backfired and had actually given al-Qaida new opportunities to set up terror training camps, improve international communications and bolster operations.

"Unfortunately, tribal leaders were unwilling and unable to go after al-Qaida or the Taliban," Bush said. "President Musharraf recognizes the agreement has not been successful or well-enforced and is taking active steps to correct it. ... Pakistani forces are in the fight and many have given their lives. The United States supports them in these efforts."

Violence has spread from Pakistan's tribal areas to the nation's capital in Islamabad and elsewhere since last week, when militants abandoned the 2006 peace deal they signed with the government to stop attacks on troops and officials. Suicide attacks, shootings and a siege and army raid on a mosque in Islamabad have killed about 289 people in Pakistan so far this month, raising concern about the threat posed by Islamic extremists and the country's political instability.

Bush also used his radio address to argue that keeping U.S. troops in Iraq is central to the security of the nation.

"The men who run al-Qaida are determined, capable and ruthless," Bush said. "They would be in a far stronger position to attack our people if America's military, law enforcement, intelligence services and other elements of our government were not engaged in a worldwide effort to stop them."

Pressure is building on the Bush administration to change course in the war, now in its fifth year and with a death toll of at least 3,628 members of the U.S. military.

On Friday, White House press secretary Tony Snow said that despite widespread skepticism in Congress, there have been significant results one month after the U.S. completed a buildup of 21,500 additional combat troops.

So far, GOP lawmakers have been mostly united in rejecting Democratic demands to set a deadline for troop withdrawals. On Wednesday, they helped scuttle a bill by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., that would have ordered troops to start leaving this fall and end major combat by April 30. The legislation would allow some troops to remain behind to conduct counterterrorism, protect U.S. assets and train Iraqis.

"This week, the Senate had the opportunity to do what most Americans want us to do: change course in Iraq," Levin said Saturday in the Democrats' weekly address. " Although a bipartisan majority of the senators supported an amendment to do just that, we were blocked by the Republican leadership from voting on it."

Levin added, "President Bush claims that we must keep paying this terrible price to protect America from terrorism, but even the administration's own intelligence experts are saying that during the war in Iraq there has been an increase in the threat of terrorism and that al-Qaida has regained its strength."