My focus is on Republican front-runner Mitt Romney and his statements about the Taliban and the war in Afghanistan.
One question to him was: “Governor Romney, should the United States negotiate with the Taliban to end the fighting in Afghanistan?”
Romney’s answer: “These people have declared war on us. They’ve killed Americans. We go anywhere they are and we kill them.”
Facts: After long negotiations with aides to Taliban leader Mohammad Omar, there is agreement for a Taliban political office to be opened in Qatar. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has given tentative assent. Obama administration officials insist that talks, when they begin, are only for confidence-building and that real negotiations over Afghanistan’s future must occur between the insurgents and the Karzai government.
Meanwhile, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton put it on Jan. 11, you don’t have the luxury of talking about ending a war with friends.
“We are prepared to support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation, and we will participate in that in support of the Afghans if we believe it holds promise for an end to the conflict,” she said.
But Clinton also said, “We have to continue fighting against those who take up arms against Afghans, and against NATO-ISAF [the U.S.-led Afghan coalition].”
At Monday’s debate, Romney went on to say President Obama now “wants to negotiate from a position of extraordinary weakness? You don’t negotiate from — with your enemy from a position of weakness, as this president has done.”
Facts: The latest National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan, briefed to Congress last month, noted recent gains had been made against the Taliban that showed a new level of strength in the coalition position. Still, there was no end in sight for the fighting because of the Kabul government’s corruption and incompetence and the insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan. The overall assessment was that both military and diplomatic success were unlikely before December 2014, when all U.S. combat forces are to be gone.
Romney on Monday also said: “This president has done an extraordinary thing. He announced the date of our withdrawal. He announced the date of the withdrawal of our surge forces based upon a political calendar, not the calendar that the commanders on the ground said it was based for our mission. [Applause.] That was wrong. And then he announced the day that we’re going to pull out of the — of the country altogether.”
Facts: In June, Obama said 33,000 troops, the same number he ordered surged to Afghanistan in December 2009, would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 2012. It was not the number that commanders originally recommended, nor did they agree with the timing.