Leon Panetta said on Thursday that the Unites States military will have to return to Afghanistan to tackle terror threats posed by Taliban and ISIS-K after a suicide attack killed 13 U.S. troops and at least 90 Afghans.
Paneta, a Democrat who served as Defense Secretary in the Obama administration, said in an interview with Erin Burnett for her CNN show OutFront that the withdrawal of American troops left the United States in a ‘very dangerous and difficult situation.’
He was asked if he believed it was right for the Biden administration to stick with the August 31 deadline for removing American troops from the war-torn country.
‘The bottom line is, our work is not done. We’re going to have to go after ISIS. I’m glad the president said we’re going to hunt them down and pay a price for what they did in killing our warriors. And we should,’ Paneta said.
‘We’re going to have to go back in to get ISIS. We’re probably going to 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.’
He added: ‘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.’
Leon Paneta said in an interview with Erin Burnett that the withdrawal of American troops left the United States in a ‘very dangerous and difficult situation’
Paneta, a Democrat, served as Defense Secretary in the Obama administration
Burnett noted that Paneta’s comments appeared to indicate that America will need to put more troops back into Afghanistan in order to prevent the threats from Al Qaeda and ISIS – the opposite of what President Joe Biden wants to do.
‘Well, what we’re going to be doing is counterterrorism operations. We’re going to have to go after those that are responsible,’ Paneta responded.
‘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 continued: ‘So counterterrorism operations are going to be something we are going to have to continue to do against ISIS, against Al Qaeda, against Boko Haram. Those are terrorist groups at war with the United States. We’ve got to go after them.’
During the interview, Paneta also said ‘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. This has to be the worst day in his administration.’
U.S. troops helping to evacuate Afghans desperate to flee Taliban rule braced for more attacks on Friday after Islamic State struck the crowded gates of Kabul airport on Thursday, killing scores of civilians and at least 13 U.S. troops.
Video shot by Afghan journalists showed dozens of bodies strewn around a canal on the edge of the airport. At least two blasts and gunfire rocked the area, witnesses said.
ISIS said one of its suicide bombers targeted ‘translators and collaborators with the American army.’ U.S. officials also blamed the group and vowed retribution.
A wounded Afghans lie on a bed at a hospital after a deadly explosions outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday
Smoke rises from a deadly explosion outside the airport in Kabul after two suicide bombers and gunmen targeted crowds massing near the Kabul airport
General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said military leaders were on alert for more ISIS attacks – possibly including rockets or car bombs targeting the airport.
‘We’re doing everything we can to be prepared,’ he said.
Biden said on Thursday that he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike ISIS-K, the Islamic State affiliate that claimed responsibility.
‘We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,’ Biden said during televised comments from the White House.
Corpses were in the canal by the airport fence, video from the scene showed, some being fished out and laid in heaps while wailing civilians searched for loved ones.
‘I saw bodies and body parts flying in the air like a tornado blowing plastic bags,’ said one Afghan who had been trying to reach the airport. ‘That little water flowing in the sewage canal had turned into blood.’
Zubair, a 24 year-old civil engineer, who had been trying for nearly a week to get inside the airport, said he was close to a suicide bomber who detonated explosives at the gate.
Afghans struggle to reach the foreign forces to show their credentials to flee the country outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan
‘Men, women and children were screaming. I saw many injured people – men, women and children – being loaded into private vehicles and taken toward the hospitals,’ he said.
A Taliban spokesman described the attack as the work of ‘evil circles’ who would be suppressed once foreign troops leave.
Western countries fear that the Taliban, who once sheltered Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, will allow Afghanistan to turn again into a haven for militants. The Taliban say they will not let the country be used by terrorists.
The United States would press on with evacuations despite the threat of further attacks, McKenzie said, noting that there were still around 1,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan.
In the past 12 days, Western countries have evacuated nearly 100,000 people. But they acknowledge that thousands will be left behind when the last U.S. troops leave at the end of the month.