Congressional homeland security leaders pessimistic on Afghanistan

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. Mindaugas Kulbis/AP

In the wake of news that an Afghan peacemaker was killed in Kabul on Sunday, top lawmakers on Congressional homeland security panels struck a pessimistic tone about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, warning that the Taliban is clearly not interested in negotiation.

“They're not interested in genuine peace talks,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, on CNN’s State of the Union. “I mean, we have been reintegrating lower-level Taliban who have come back over to the side of the Afghan national security forces over the last couple of years, but the people at the top of the Taliban, in my opinion, are not interested in reconciliation.”

Lieberman said that this and other incidents have made it “obvious they don’t want peace right now,” but insisted the only way to get the Taliban to honestly engage in peace talks is to “continue to put pressure” on the organization.

Lieberman’s counterpart in the House, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., struck the same pessimistic tone and worried that the set date for withdrawal from Afghanistan was hurting the U.S. effort.

“Quite frankly, I think we should not be giving these target dates for getting out, but apparently that is set now,” he said. “It just shows again how tough Afghanistan is, that we shouldn't be leaving prematurely, and there's a lot of work on the ground that has to be done, and it's a very dangerous place in the world.”

Both lawmakers are in opposition to public opinion, with Americans widely dissatisfied with the war in Afghanistan and the latest poll showing a majority do not support the war. Incidents like Sunday’s killing of a peacemaker, however, underscore the danger inherent in leaving the country before Afghans are ready to take over their own security.

The lawmakers did, however, have positive words for the U.S. intelligence and homeland security efforts. Speaking of foiled bomb plot involving a U.S. airliner last week, King said that the effort marked an “almost unparalleled penetration of the enemy.”

Lieberman said that, now that U.S. officials have been able to examine the bomb, they’ll be adjusting security accordingly, but that the Transportation Security Administration would likely have caught it anyway.

“The odds are pretty good that our systems, multi-layered as they are, would have detected this device before the individual carrying it could have gotten on a plane,” he said.

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