Published: Apr 28, 2010 10:26 AM EDT

     WASHINGTON (AP) - An increase in terrorist attacks in Pakistan
and Afghanistan triggered a spike in the number of civilians killed
or wounded there last year, pushing South Asia past the Middle East
as the top terror region in the world, according to figures
compiled by a U.S. intelligence agency.
      Thousands of civilians - overwhelmingly Muslim - continue to be
slaughtered in extremist attacks, contributing to the instability
of the often shaky, poverty-stricken governments in the region, the
statistics compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center show.
      The struggling nations provide havens for terrorists who are
increasingly targeting the U.S. and other Western nations. At the
same time, U.S.-led operations against insurgents increased in both
countries.
      "The numbers, to a certain extent, are a reflection of where
the enemy is re-gathering," said Juan Zarate, a top
counterterrorism official in the Bush administration who is now
senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies.
      "So, to the extent we are seeing more attacks in Afghanistan
and Pakistan, it's a reflection of resistance to U.S. policy and
presence as well as a strategic shift by groups like al-Qaida and
foreign jihadis to concentrate where they think they will be most
effective," he said.
      U.S. intelligence officials said the 2009 totals - they do not
include attacks on the military - offered one glimmer of hope:
Terror attacks in Pakistan were growing substantially early in 2009
but leveled out toward the end of the year as Pakistani forces
stepped up their assaults on militant strongholds along the border.
      The rise in violence in South Asia was offset by a continued
decline in attacks in Iraq, leading to an overall decrease in
terrorism worldwide in 2009, compared with 2008. In Iraq, the
number of attacks fell by nearly a third from 2008 to 2009, and
suicide bombings have plunged from more than 350 in 2007 to about
80 last year.
      But even beyond South Asia, the overall picture of terrorism
last year underscored new threats in Somalia and Yemen, where
insurgents have gained strongholds in vast lawless stretches.
      The terror threat to the United States is partly a function of
the level of violence worldwide, said Bernard Finel, a senior
fellow with the American Security Project.
      "The larger the pool of extremists, the larger the risk that
some will choose to attack American interests or be recruited into
groups like al-Qaida with global aspirations," he said.
      While there are varied reasons for the terror trends, they
partly reflect policy decisions by the Bush and Obama
administrations to pull out of the gradually improving situation in
Iraq and focus military and diplomatic efforts on Afghanistan and
Pakistan.
      The increased military pressure in Pakistan, experts say, has
helped disrupt al-Qaida and Taliban groups. But in Afghanistan, it
has fueled the insurgency, spawning increased attacks against
citizens in what experts suggest is an insurgent campaign to
destabilize the government and generate militant recruits.
      The National Counterterrorism Center statistics measure attacks
against civilians. They will be released later this week in
conjunction with the State Department's annual assessment of global
terrorism.
      U.S. officials spoke about the trends on condition of anonymity
in advance of the public release.
      The numbers show that nearly 7,000 civilians were killed and
injured in Afghanistan terror attacks last year, a 44 percent
increase over 2008. In Pakistan, more than 8,600 were killed and
wounded last year, a 30 percent jump.
      According to the officials, Pakistan's push into the Federally
Administered Tribal Areas and the Swat Valley put more pressure on


the insurgents toward the end of the year, tamping down militant
activity and forcing them to relocate.
      At the same time, the U.S. also targeted the border region by
dramatically increasing its classified program of drone attacks,
largely conducted by the CIA. As a result, the officials said, the
overall increase in Pakistan violence was less than initially
expected during the more turbulent first half of the year.
      "The military pressure has dislodged the (terror) groups from
some of their training areas and kept them on the run," said
Finel, who has just completed his own review of terror incidents
and provided a preview of his results.
      He said Islamist violence fell by 60 percent in the last half of
2009, compared with the first half. But he cautioned that the
impact of the military action may not last, and terror groups are
likely to rebound if the root of their extremist ideologies lives
on.
      Overall, the number of terror attacks in Pakistan rose from
about 1,800 in 2008 to more than 1,900 attacks in 2009. Suicide
bombings more than doubled between 2007 and 2009, jumping from 40
to 84.
      In Afghanistan, attacks increased from more than 1,200 in 2008
to about 2,100 in 2009. Officials warned that the 2008 numbers may
be a bit understated because of the difficulties in obtaining
accurate reports from the war zone.
      Last year, the U.S. began pouring troops into the foundering
Afghan war and more forces continue to move in this year,
bolstering a gradually unfolding offensive into the southern
region.