The looming pullout of U.S. forces from Afghanistan will not be the end of America’s involvement there, according to a top member of the Obama administration.
Former Democratic Rep. Leon Panetta of California, who served as CIA director and Secretary of Defense under former President Barack Obama, made his comments during an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, in which they focused on the response to the terrorist attack on Thursday that left 13 American troops dead and more than 300 Afghan civilians killed or wounded.
Earlier this month, in a different interview discussing the collapse of Afghanistan, Panetta said, “In many ways, I think of John Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs, you know? It unfolded quickly and the president thought that everything would be fine and that was not the case.”
On Thursday, Burnett asked him if the terrorist attacks were unavoidable. Panetta took his response in a different direction.
“There’s no question that it’s probably Joe Biden’s worst nightmare to lose 13 Marines as a result of what’s happened here,” says former CIA director Leon Panetta of the deadly attacks in Afghanistan.
“This has to be the worst day in his administration.” pic.twitter.com/ykI8bt53De
— OutFrontCNN (@OutFrontCNN) August 26, 2021
“Well, there’s no question that what happened here left us in a very dangerous and difficult situation,” Panetta said.
“We’ve got thousands of our troops located in a very limited area and in an unfriendly country. We’ve got thousands outside, trying to get into the airport area. We’ve got the Taliban, who are terrorists and certainly supporters of terrorists — they’re operating checking points for terrorism and we’ve got ISIS looking for the opportunity to blow people up,” he said.
“This is a dangerous and difficult situation and there’s no question that it’s probably [President] Joe Biden’s worst nightmare to lose 13 Marines as a result of what’s happened here. This has got to be the worst day in his administration,” he said.
When Burnett sought to ask Panetta about the looming Aug. 31 date for the final withdrawal of U.S. forces, Panetta showed that he was thinking well beyond Tuesday’s deadline, and was not in step with the Biden administration’s party line.
“Well, Erin, bottom line is that our work is not done in Afghanistan,” he said.
Panetta said American forces will be returning to Afghanistan.
“I know we’ll be removing our troops by a certain date, but the bottom line is our work is not done. We’re going to have to go after ISIS. I’m glad the president said that we’re going to hunt them down and make them pay a price for what they did in killing our warriors and we should. We’re going to have to go back in to get ISIS,” he said.
Panetta indicated he expects Afghanistan will again be a haven for terrorists, as it was before former President George W. Bush authorized attacks in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“We’re probably going to go have to go back in when al-Qaida resurrects itself as they will with this Taliban. They’ve gave safe haven to al-Qaida before. They’ll probably do it again,” he said.
Panetta said there is more fighting to be done.
“So, yeah, I understand that we’re trying to get our troops out of there, but the bottom line is we can leave a battlefield but we can’t leave the war on terrorism which still is a threat to our security,” he said.
Panetta said that although Biden has promised troops will be leaving, the commitment to hunt down those who killed Americans on Thursday requires “counterterrorism operations.”
“We’re going to have to go after those that are responsible,” he said. “I think we have pretty good intelligence on the leadership of ISIS. I think there’s a pretty good chance we can identify who is involved with this attack. “
“And once we are able to locate them, we have to go after them. That’s what the president promised today and I suspect we will,” he said.
Panetta emphasized that the global war on terror must be fought.
“So counterterrorism operations are going to be something we are going to have to continue to do against ISIS, against al-Qaida, against al-Shabaab, against Boko Haram. Those are terrorist groups that are at war with the United States. We’ve got to go after them,” he said.
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