Obama team: There hasn’t been a terrorist threat from Afghanistan “for the past seven or eight years”
One of the most prominent, remaining Obama administration justifications for continuing the war in Afghanistan is the need to squash the threat of attacks on the U.S. But top administration officials don’t believe there has been a terrorist threat coming from Afghanistan since at least 2004. "The goal that we seek is achievable, and can ...
One of the most prominent, remaining Obama administration justifications for continuing the war in Afghanistan is the need to squash the threat of attacks on the U.S. But top administration officials don’t believe there has been a terrorist threat coming from Afghanistan since at least 2004.
"The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: no safe-haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies," President Obama said in his Wednesday evening speech to the nation, where he promised to withdraw 10,000 troops this year and all 33,000 surge troops by next summer.
In a conference call with reporters earlier Wednesday, a "senior administration official" said no terrorist threat from Afghanistan has been present for 7 or 8 years, well before the Obama administration surged troops there in 2009.
"On the threat side, we haven’t seen a terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan for the past seven or eight years. There has been clearly fighting and threats inside of Afghanistan, but the assessment of anywhere between 50, 75 or so al Qaeda types that are embedded in Haqqani units, basically, tactical fighting units inside of Afghanistan, they are focused inside Afghanistan with no indication at all that there is any effort within Afghanistan to use Afghanistan as a launching pad to carry out attacks outside of Afghan borders," the official said. "The threat has come from Pakistan over the past half-dozen years or so, and longer."
Later in the same conference call, the "senior administration official" repeated the administration’s view that there’s no terrorist threat coming from Afghanistan and used that assumption to argue there will be no danger in removing the surge troops.
"And so, in taking a look at the drawdown of U.S. troops, the 10,000 this year and then the 33,000 by next summer, it is certainly the view of the people who have been prosecuting this effort from the administration that this is not going to increase the threat," the official said. "Again, we don’t see a transnational threat coming out of Afghanistan in terms of the terrorist threat and it’s not going to affect at all the threat in Pakistan either."
Of course, if the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan, that could all change. Obama’s GOP critics were quick to criticize the president for talking extensively about wrapping up the war and apparently going against the advice of ISAF Commander Gen. David Petraeus.
"When America goes to war, America needs to win. We need to close out the war successfully, and what that means now is not nation-building. What it means is to follow General Petraeus’s advice and to get those security forces built up where they can pick up the slack as we draw down," said GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty.
"I think we have undercut a strategy that was working." Sen. Lindsey Graham said on CNN. "I think the 10,000 troops leaving this year is going to make this fighting season more difficult. Having all of the surge forces leave by next summer is going to compromise next summer’s fighting season."
For those on both the left and right who wanted Obama to withdraw from Afghanistan even more quickly, the acknowledgement that no terrorist threat exists there only reinforces their argument for a speedy exit.
"Our troops have done everything we’ve asked them to. They’ve routed the Taliban, dismantled Al Qaeda, and facilitated democratic elections," said GOP candidate Jon Huntsman. "Now it is time we move to a focused counter-terror effort which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the President discussed tonight."
"It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than the President laid out – and we will continue to press for a better outcome," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Meanwhile, former officials and experts complained that Obama’s speech seemed to acknowledge that the U.S. will never be able to prevent the Taliban from playing a role in Afghanistan’s future, but failed to spell out a diplomatic solution that addresses how to incorporate the Taliban into the Afghan government.
"I would have liked to have heard much more from him about a diplomatic strategy," Vali Nasr, a former top advisor to the late Richard Holbrooke, said on MSNBC immediately following the speech. "If you cannot end the war militarily, the only other way the war is going to go away is through some kind of deal in which the protagonists agree to a peace settlement. And we haven’t done much of that. It hasn’t been part of the debate about sending the troops in and it hasn’t been a part of the debate of pulling troops out."
"Ultimately wars are fought on battlefields, but they have to finish around the table, and the administration hasn’t really outlined how it is going to get there," Nasr said.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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