It’s an obvious point, but perhaps a bit more stinging coming from a key member of Barack Obama’s national security team. “Our work is not done in Afghanistan,” Leon Panetta told CNN’s Erin Burnett, who wondered how Joe Biden planned on wreaking his revenge on ISIS-K without any troops in the country.
To do what Biden promised yesterday, the former CIA director and Secretary of Defense explained, the US will need combat boots on the ground again. “We can leave a battlefield,” Panetta said, “but we can’t leave the war on terrorism”:
BURNETT: So he is sticking with the August 31st deadline. I mean, he’s made it clear that even after that they’ll do whatever they can, but he’s sticking with it. He is not extending it and that it is what it is, is what he says. So do you agree with that? Is it right to stick with this August 31st date?
PANETTA: Well, Erin, bottom line is that our work is not done in 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.
We’re probably going to go have to go back in when al-Qaeda resurrects itself as they will with this Taliban. They’ve gave safe haven to al- Qaeda before. They’ll probably do it again. So, yes, 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.
BURNETT: So does that, I mean, the President today vowed, as you say, to hunt down those behind the attack at the time and place of America’s choosing, he said all those words. But basically it sounds like what you’re saying is that’s going to require putting more people back in Afghanistan, which is the opposite of what he wants to do.
PANETTA: Well, what we’re going to be doing is counterterrorism operations. We’re going to have to go after those that are responsible. 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.
Consider this the counterpoint to James Stavridis’ argument earlier today. Both Stavridis and Biden talk about “over the horizon” counter-terrorism operations, but that relies on firm intelligence on the ground. Had we continued to support the Afghan army with logistics, contractors, and intelligence as we had been until around July 1 when we pulled the plug on Bagram without even notifying our partner government, we might still have a robust “over the horizon” capability in Afghanistan.
As it is, though, we’re now blind and mostly deaf to what’s happening in Afghanistan. The White House has tried to claim it can track terror groups using comms traffic, satellite data, and other high-tech options, but those are hardly sufficient for targeting when an attack is necessary — especially in terrain like Afghanistan. The only other way to get that information would be to build an intelligence network among the Afghans — and they just got a full-screen view of how much we value their cooperation and partnership.
Republicans can point this out all day long, and all they get from the media are headlines about “pouncing.” Having Panetta point out the obvious about our “over the horizon” capabilities after this disastrous bug-out and betrayal might move the needle a little more. It certainly puts pressure on Biden to find others willing to publicly defend his incompetent pull-out. He’ll need more than Stavridis to counter Panetta, and pretty much everyone else not bedazzled by Biden’s barely coheren word salad.