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GOP Rep. Waltz, Afghanistan War Veteran, Has Concerns About U.S. Withdrawal05:33
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to coalition forces at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, Monday, July 9, 2018. (Andrew Harnik, Pool/AP)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to coalition forces at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, Monday, July 9, 2018. (Andrew Harnik, Pool/AP)
This article is more than 2 years old.

The Senate voted this week to advance a bipartisan amendment saying President Trump's troop withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan would put hard-won national security gains at risk.

Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd speaks with Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz (@michaelgwaltz) of Florida's 6th Congressional District, who is a Green Beret and veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

Interview Highlights

On whether he supports the statement on withdrawing from Afghanistan that senators are making

"In addition ... to serving over there as a Green Beret in Afghanistan, I also worked the issue from the Bush White House with Vice President Cheney and then also in the Pentagon. So I've kind of seen this war from all different angles and I certainly share their concerns. Look, I understand that there is a lot of frustration out there of how long we've been there — too hard, too long, too expensive, where's it going. And at some point we do need to drive towards some type of negotiated peace agreement. However, I don't know that now is the time.

"We need to negotiate from a position of strength, and what really struck me in the statements about this current round is that ... the Taliban essentially said, 'Trust us, we'll keep al-Qaida, ISIS and other terrorist groups from launching attacks on the west again from Afghanistan.' Now, that's kind of like the Russians saying, 'Trust us, we won't build nukes.' I have a lot of concerns about the verification, how do you verify that.

"My first thought is will you verify by keeping a counterterrorism presence on the ground so that if the Taliban can't — or won't — stop al-Qaida, ISIS and terrorist groups from launching, then we can take matters back in our own hands? We also have to continue to build the Afghan army's capacity to eventually do this on their own. And ... those missions are what we currently have forces there for now. So it's the withdrawal that really has me concerned."

On whether he shares concerns that many others have that the Taliban will rush into power if U.S. troops withdraw, and then they will repress the people

"Oh absolutely. We've made huge gains in the last 15 years in girls' education and women's empowerment and sowing the seeds of democracy, but it's going to take a long time and I think the investment — look, we can debate this all day long. I really don't think we have a choice. The United States must lead and we must keep our foot on the neck of these terrorist groups. There is a reason we haven't had any major attacks in the last few years and that's because these groups are on the run. They can't plot, plan, and train and attack the United States. So we need to stay on offense, and we can fight these wars in Kabul and in places like Damascus, or we can fight them in places like Kansas City. I prefer the former."

On President Trump appearing to ridicule some of his top intelligence advisers for contradicting his stance on issues like ISIS and North Korea

"Let's take a step backwards. So first of all, the contentious relationships between commanders-in-chief and the intelligence community are not new. We saw it in the Obama administration with Afghanistan, we saw it in the Bush administration with Iran and where they were. Remember, I worked for Vice President Cheney and he certainly didn't always agree. The intelligence assessments aren't always right. Remember, [former Director of Central Intelligence for the CIA] George Tenet with the slam dunk comment about [weapons of mass destruction] in Iraq.

"So that contentious relationship can exist — remember, intelligence are a series of best guesses. That said, what I don't like is we don't air that kind of dirty laundry for the Chinese, the Russians, the terrorists and everyone else to see. So that's the part that really has me concerned."


Jill Ryan produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Todd MundtJack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on February 1, 2019.

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Peter O'Dowd Twitter Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.

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