By Bridget Johnson - 12/06/09 03:21 PM EST
National Security Adviser James Jones said Sunday that the U.S. can estimate the location of Osama bin Laden and go after him, even as Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that there hasn't been good intelligence on the al-Qaida leader's whereabouts in "years."
While stressing on CNN's "State of the Union" that the "most important work" in the U.S. strategy moving forward in Afghanistan is working with Pakistan to eliminate safe border havens for al-Qaida and Taliban, Jones said the "best estimation" of bin Laden's whereabouts is the rugged, lawless region of north Waziristan: "sometimes on the Pakistani side of the border, sometimes on the Afghan side of the border."
When pressed by host John King about whether this indicated a renewed, concerted effort to get bin Laden, Jones responded, "I think so."
On ABC's "This Week," though, Gates said "I think it’s been years" since the U.S. had good intelligence on the terrorist leader's whereabouts.
"Well, we don’t know for a fact where Osama bin Laden is. If we did, we’d go get him," Gates said when pressed by host George Stephanopoulos about a claim by Pakistan that bin Laden is likely not within their borders.
Gates added that bin Laden could be in north Waziristan, but the Pakistani government has been shut out from the region for too long to know for certain.
The comments came as administration defense officials made the rounds on the Sunday morning news shows after President Barack Obama's decision last week to go ahead with a 30,000-troop surge and set a July 2011 exit goal.
Jones said the 2011 goal, which has been criticized heavily in Republican circles for giving insurgents a date until which they can lay low, "has more to do with a transition than anything else," giving the Afghan government a chance to develop its forces and take responsibility for security.
"It is not a cliff; it's a glide slope," Jones said of the exit strategy. "...The end of the ramp will be predicated on exactly how much progress we're making. ... We have strategic interests in south Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times."
Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said on CNN, though, that Obama had "complicated matters" -- and GOP support for his policies -- by including the exit date.
"In war, will matters," Kyl said. "The whole object of war is to break the will of the enemy to fight."
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she was satisfied with the timetable, though, while stressing that the U.S. "has made the point that [Afghan President Hamid Karzai] must shape up.
"We have a real chance in seeing that this country becomes stable and secure," Feinstein said.
Feinstein added that there is a "serious concern" that al-Qaida has "metastasized," training and funding terrorists including a "very serious, criminally oriented" Taliban.
"If we do not abate this threat in Afghanistan, then Pakistan will be next," Feinstein said. "This remains to be a threat and if you don't address it, it will grow."
Returning to the withdrawal timeline, Kyl said the "single biggest factor" that will influence the outcome in the region is U.S. commitment, and whether Pakistan believes it can count on the U.S. for the long haul.
The renewed interest in bin Laden's role in the surge comes after a report prepared by majority staff for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and formally released the day before Obama's Afghanistan announcement claimed that the U.S. had cornered bin Laden in December 2001.
The report lays blame squarely at the feet of the Bush administration, and particularly former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Operation Enduring Freedom commander Gen. Tommy Franks, for failing to catch bin Laden when subsequent review "removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora."