President Barack Obama’s decision on Friday to speed up the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan “reopens the possibility of the Taliban to emerge as a major player,” former Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra tells Newsmax.
“It is a signal to the Afghan people — he signaled to the Taliban, and he signaled to the American people — that the U.S. role, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, is done,” Hoekstra, the former GOP chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee, tells Newsmax TV in an exclusive interview. “It may not be completed, but it is finished.
“The US will no longer be there primarily to defeat the Taliban and to maintain security in Afghanistan,” he added.
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“In the long run, what this does is really creates a significant uncertainty in Afghanistan — in terms of the Afghan government being able to maintain security in Afghanistan, and it reopens the possibility of the Taliban to emerge as a major player in Afghanistan, and perhaps for a resurgent al-Qaida to move out of Pakistan and again occupy both sides of the border.
"It’s troubling,” Hoekstra added.
Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed on Friday to speed up the handover of combat operations to Afghan forces to this spring. The move underscores Obama's determination to move decisively to wind down the long, unpopular war — the nation’s longest after the Vietnam War, which spanned nearly 20 years, beginning in 1955.
“The president and President Karzai are overstating the capabilities of the Afghans' security forces,” Hoekstra tells Newsmax. “Afghanistan is a very, very difficult region to govern and to control. To believe that they can take the lead in that part of the world, especially with no functioning Air Force, I think is unrealistic.”
The White House said earlier this week that no U.S. troops may be left in Afghanistan after next year — even more worrisome, Hoekstra said.
“What it does is it creates an opportunity, creates one more potential training and breeding ground for radical jihadists. They will move from Pakistan back into Afghanistan. They will occupy both countries. I don’t think the radical jihadists will try to control and take over Afghanistan — but, clearly, they will have a training ground. Whether they will use the results of the training and the preparation, that’s what we need to be concerned about.”
These moves do not necessarily signal that Obama’s “waving the white flag” on the war on terror in the region, “but, clearly, the president’s attempts to contain and defeat radical jihadism have not been very successful,” Hoekstra said. “This is just one more part of what is a strategy that makes America much more vulnerable.
“We see what’s going on in Northern Africa, we see what’s going on in other parts of the Middle East — and now we see that even in the areas where we’ve invested the most American resources to try to combat and defeat radical jihadism, the United States is now pulling out.
“With no troops left there, it really does become what it was 12 years ago, the Wild, Wild West. It is going to be a return to the pre-9/11 days.”
Turning his attention to Obama’s nominations to his national security team — Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry as Secretary of State, former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska as Defense Secretary, and John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency — Hoekstra said that all three should be confirmed by Congress.
“The president deserves his appointments. With Hagel and Brennan, I’ve got concerns about those nominations — but I don’t think Republicans and others who disagree with these appointments should be focused on the individual,” he said. “These are ethical individuals. They have served their country. They are there to carry out the president’s mission.
“We ought to be focusing on our disagreements with the president in terms of his national security and foreign-policy agenda and not necessarily on the individual. Don’t make this a fight about the individuals he’s nominated to these positions.”
And one such foreign-policy debacle that the GOP should be focused on is the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Hoekstra, who is also an advisor to the Newsmax affiliate LIGNET.com, said he, too, was interested in hearing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony on the assault on Jan. 22.
“Exactly, why did we have such a significant CIA presence in Benghazi? What activities were we actually involved in? Was it the shipping of arms and munitions from Libya into Syria to arm the rebels? Were we engaged in tracking — and perhaps detaining and interrogating, with the help of Libyan security forces — radical elements in Northern Libya?
“What was going on there? That is the key to understanding why the facilities were attacked in Benghazi and why the ambassador was killed.
“The other thing that we will find is that the individuals who attacked our facilities in Benghazi, ultimately, we will find that they were trained and received some equipment from NATO or American forces because they were part of the effort to overthrow [Muammar] Gaddafi,” Hoekstra added. “And after Gaddafi was overthrown, they turned against NATO and they turned against the United States. That shouldn’t be a surprise, but those are the kinds of things that need to come out into the open.
“And, then, we have to have an adult discussion about those things,” he concluded. “I don’t blame the president for those things, but those are the kinds of issues that we have to have an open and a forthright discussion about.
“The president and this administration have done a phenomenal job of keeping that information away from Congress and keeping that information away from the American people. I hope that Sen. [Lindsey] Graham and others in the Senate and in the House are successful in forcing the administration to give us that information.”
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