Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says US troops will need to go back into combat in Afghanistan — as the region remains on high alert for more suicide attacks, with the death toll from Thursday’s atrocity rising to more than 100, including 13 US soldiers.
“We’re probably going to have to go back in when al Qaeda resurrects itself, as they will, with this Taliban,” he predicted.
“They gave safe haven to al Qaeda before, they’ll probably do it again,” predicted Panetta, who was the director of the CIA and oversaw the US operation that killed the terror group’s leader, Osama bin Laden.
“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,” he told CNN.
Panetta, who was Defense Secretary under President Barack Obama, said that the Biden’s sudden withdrawal of troops left a “very dangerous and difficult situation” with “thousands of our troops located in a very limited area in an unfriendly country.”
He insisted that the Taliban — despite claims of peace and a new era of leadership — were “terrorists, and certainly supporters of terrorists, operating checkpoints for terrorists.”
He said that the US appeared to have “pretty good intelligence on the leadership of ISIS,” the terrorist group whose Afghanistan-based affiliate, ISIS-K, had taken responsibility for Thursday’s blast.
“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,” he said.
“That’s what the president promised today, and I suspect we will,” he said of the President’s vow to those involved that the US will “hunt you down and make you pay.”
“This has got to be the worst day in his administration,” he said of the cowardly attack Thursday, which by Friday was confirmed to have killed at least 13 US troops and 95 Afghans, including Taliban troops.
One Afghan official told the Associated Press that the final tally could be as high as 115 dead, with morgues stretched to capacity and the possibility that relatives are taking bodies away from the scene.
Troops still in Afghanistan helping the evacuation were on alert for more attacks Friday, including possible rockets or car bombs.
“We’re doing everything we can to be prepared,” said General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, with some intelligence being shared with the Taliban, insisting that “some attacks have been thwarted by them.”
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the threat of attacks would increase as Western troops got closer to completing the huge airlift and leaving.
“The narrative is always going to be, as we leave, certain groups such as ISIS will want to stake a claim that they have driven out the US or the UK,” Wallace told Sky News.
ISIS said one of its suicide bombers targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army.”
It was not clear if suicide bombers detonated both blasts or if one was a planted bomb. It was also not clear if ISIS gunmen were involved in the attack or if the firing that followed the blasts was Taliban guards firing into the air to control crowds.
With Post wires
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