The terrorists have a sanctuary once again.
MANY FACTORS contributed to the awful success that al-Qaeda achieved six years ago today: tactical and policy mistakes by the United States, the diabolical skill of the terrorists, even the clear, cobalt-blue sky on that initially beautiful morning. But probably nothing was more important than the haven in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that gave al-Qaeda the time and space it needed to train, recruit and plan for highly complex operations. Accordingly, the greatest victory the United States and its allies have yet recorded against the terrorist network was the ouster of the Taliban from Kabul and the scattering of al-Qaeda's depleted ranks across Southwest Asia.
Yet as the United States mourns and commemorates the worst act of terrorism ever carried out on U.S. soil, and reflects thankfully on the fact that it has not been repeated, there are ominous signs that al-Qaeda is back as a coherent, global force capable of inflicting damage on the United States. Al-Qaeda never really went away, of course, as grieving families of its victims from London to Baghdad can attest. But the emergence of the first authentic Osama bin Laden video in three years, the arrest of German-based al-Qaeda operatives near Frankfurt, and the reinfiltration of hundreds of al-Qaeda-aligned Taliban fighters and intended suicide bombers into Afghanistan point toward one alarming conclusion: Al-Qaeda is once again able to operate from a consistent haven. According to the latest National Intelligence Estimate on al-Qaeda, the organization "has protected or regenerated key elements of its homeland attack capability" inside Pakistan.
The recently disrupted bomb plot in Germany illustrates what this means in concrete terms. The three men arrested, along with at least two others still at large, had traveled recently to the lawless Pakistani region of Waziristan, where they received explosives training from Uzbek Islamist terrorists allied with al-Qaeda, according to the New York Times. They were allegedly planning to attack U.S. sites in Germany. Al-Qaeda apparently sought a repeat of the 2005 attacks on London mass transit, but on a larger scale and aimed directly at Americans. The organizer of the London massacre, which claimed 52 lives, also trained in Waziristan. And thanks to its haven in Pakistani territory, the terrorist network has dramatically increased its ability to disseminate propaganda on the Internet, as The Post's Craig Whitlock reported Sunday.
From the standpoint of U.S. national security, this situation is intolerable. We underestimate neither the remoteness of the terrain nor the elusiveness of al-Qaeda targets; the new camps in Pakistan are believed to be mobile, unlike the fixed installations in Afghanistan. We understand, as well, the complexity of Pakistan's internal politics. But for the past six years, the Bush administration has trusted the country's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to cooperate against al-Qaeda. There have been real achievements -- the arrest of Khalid Sheik Mohammed being the most visible. More recently, though, the record has been disappointing, largely because Gen. Musharraf's ill-considered truce with pro-Taliban tribal leaders in Waziristan permitted terrorists free rein. That truce is over now, and Pakistani troops are back in the region. We agree with former Sept. 11 commission co-chairmen Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, who wrote in this newspaper two days ago: "Pakistan should take the lead in closing Taliban camps and rooting out al-Qaeda. But the United States must act if Pakistan will not."