McCain's 2007 Pakistan trip: bold move or needless risk?

His campaign reveals he made an unannounced trip to North Waziristan, where few Westerners dare to venture.

By , Staff writer

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    High-level meeting: Sen. John McCain met with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's then president, on April 3, 2007, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
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Waziristan is one of the most dangerous places on Earth for Westerners, let alone US presidential candidates.

Isolated and mountainous, North and South Waziristan form part of Pakistan's tribal belt, a semiautonomous zone along the border with Afghanistan where Taliban fighters and an Al Qaeda remnant have found sanctuary. This region is often cited as a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden. It is extremely rare for journalists - Pakistani reporters included - to venture there. Neither does the Pakistani military have free access to the entire region under agreements in place for more than a century.

So when GOP presidential candidate John McCain touted his travel to Waziristan to highlight his foreign policy credentials in last Friday's debate, it raised some eyebrows.

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"There ... seems to be a valid question about whether John McCain was ever in Waziristan," opined one skeptic on the liberal Daily Kos website. "Simply because he says it, without proof, some people will believe it, and reporters print it. Where is the documented proof of his trip to a terrorist stronghold?"

On Wednesday, in response to a reporter's question, Senator McCain's campaign said he took a day trip to North Waziristan in Pakistan with the assistance of an "unnamed" American agency in March 2007. He visited a location near the town of Miram Shah, went on to the city of Peshawar, then returned to the capital of Islamabad. The visit was not on the official tour, according to McCain's campaign, because of the agency involved in facilitating it.

The Central Intelligence Agency said it was still looking into its records. But "the CIA does not as a rule comment publicly on such matters," said Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the agency.

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