President Barack Obama must stop apologizing for every misstep in the Afghanistan war — it makes the United States look weak in the eyes of the enemy, Republican Rep. Allen West told Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview.
And if there is no political will to deal with Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, the United States might as well remove all troops from the country, he added.
“If you are not going to contend with the sanctuaries that are across the border in Pakistan, then you should depart from Afghanistan because you are not going to have a secure situation until you deal with what the ISI in Pakistan is allowing to happen,” he said referring to that country’s intelligence service.
“We need to go back to the table and look at our operational goals and objectives in Afghanistan,” said the Florida congressman, who served in Kuwait and Iraq during his 22 years in the Army.
West was speaking three days after an unidentified army staff sergeant allegedly went on a rampage in Kandahar Province, killing 16 locals. That incident and last month’s inadvertent burning of Qurans by soldiers have heightened tensions in the country.
On Wednesday, a stolen pickup truck driven by an Afghan burst into flames near the runway of a British base in Afghanistan at about the time U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s plane arrived. An investigation is still under way to determine if the incident may have been a failed attack on Panetta. West declined to comment on that matter until more facts are known.
West, who served as a civilian adviser in Afghanistan, said the Taliban has seized the two issues and is using them as “an opportunity to ramp up the rhetoric.”
“What happened with this staff sergeant in Afghanistan is a horrible event. It cannot be condoned,” said West, who left the army with the rank of lieutenant colonel. “You have to condemn it in each and every way, but this should not overshadow the 10-plus years that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have been there and the impeccable sacrifices and service that they have given to the Afghan people.
“We need to put this in perspective and not allow President Karzai and the Taliban to get any type of high ground,” he added.
When asked how the United States can best prevent Taliban threats to behead soldiers in retaliation, the congressman was succinct. “We kill them first,” he said.
West attacked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for suggesting the soldier, who was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday, might face the death penalty at court martial.
“I will tell Leon Panetta … stop overreacting and stop appeasing these radicals, offering up our own service men and women,” West said, pointing out that neither Sgt. Hasan Akbar, who was convicted of killing two officers when he threw a hand grenade into a tent in Kuwait in 2003, nor Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who faces charges of killing 13 servicemen during a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, have been executed.
“Let’s make sure we are playing this straight,” he said.
West said reports that the staff sergeant in the Kandahar case had suffered a traumatic brain injury during an earlier tour of duty in Iraq pointed to the need to take better care of America's wounded military. He called such injuries “the hidden sickness” of war.
“What we must understand is that here is a gentleman who has served this country bravely for three, now going on four combat tours. We can’t just cast him aside and treat him like some sort of refuse.
“He was a hero to his children and we need to make sure as best as we possibly can that we can protect the way that his children see him.” But he said the sergeant has to pay for the killings if he is found guilty by the court martial.
West pointed out that the Qurans that were burned had been defaced by captured Taliban fighters who had allegedly used them to pass messages.
“If you understood Islamic culture, as soon as those Jihadists and terrorists wrote in the Qurans, by their own cultural standards, they should have been killed,” he said. “It was not about burning Qurans. We were disposing of contraband.”
Six U.S. servicemen have been killed in violence spurred by the burning, but West said it is important that we do not retaliate. “We’re better than that,” he said. “We don’t react irrationally like some of these barbaric radical Islamists do by burning crosses and [saying] Death to the United States of America.
“They would not have the freedoms and the liberties that they currently have if it were not for the men and women who have lost their limbs and lost their lives in Afghanistan in trying to give them and their children a brighter future.
West said unless safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan have to be dealt with, the military should leave “because you are not going to have a secure situation.”
“You have got to deny sanctuary wherever it is. You have to cordon off this enemy. You have to interdict their free flow of men, materiel and weapons support.
“When you’ve got [the Taliban’s former Afghan head of state] Mullah Omar sitting over in Quetta; when you have got the Haqqani network sitting over there in the Tribal Areas in Pakistan launching their attacks coming in against our troops, then we have got to step this up.”
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