Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden during Thursday’s debate in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – Former Vice President Joe Biden said during Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate that Afghanistan “cannot be put together,” is “three different countries,” with Pakistan controlling three provinces in the east.
He also suggested that American troops be withdrawn from Afghanistan, and that Pakistan then provide bases for the U.S. to use to ensure terrorists never again attack the homeland from Afghanistan.
The puzzling comments, one of which appeared to call into question the territorial integrity of a major non-NATO ally, came as the perceived campaign front-runner answered a question that had not been put to him, but had been asked minutes earlier of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Warren reaffirmed her pledge to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan within her first year in office, and Buttigieg also called for “an end to endless war,” adding that ensuring that Afghanistan is never again used as a launching pad for an attack on the U.S. “does not require an open-ended commitment of ground troops.”
Biden was then asked about his role in withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and whether their quick pullout from that country had helped ISIS to take hold.
Instead, he chose to answer the earlier Afghanistan question. (He did return to Iraq later.)
Biden began by laying out his credentials as someone who has been “in and out of Afghanistan” more than anybody on the stage. “Not with a gun,” he qualified, acknowledging Buttigieg’s combat service in Afghanistan.
(As a Navy reservist, Buttigieg served about seven months in Afghanistan in 2014 as an intelligence officer, part of a unit whose task was to identify and disrupt Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups’ financial support networks.)
“The whole purpose of going to Afghanistan was to not have a counterinsurgency – meaning that we’re going to put that country together,” Biden said.
“It cannot be put together. Let me say it again: It will not be put together. It’s three different countries. Pakistan owns the three counties – the three provinces in the east. They’re not any part of – the Haqqanis run it.”
(The Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate, is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization operating in southeastern Afghanistan and in the tribal belt on the Pakistan side of the Afghan-Pakistan border.)
“I will go on and on, but here’s the point,” Biden continued. “The point is that it’s a counterterrorism strategy. We can prevent the United States from being the victim of terror coming out of Afghanistan by providing for bases – insist the Pakistanis provide bases for us to airlift from and to move against what we know,” he said.
“We don’t need those troops there. I would bring them home.”
Biden’s comments on Afghanistan being a fragmented country recall his arguments more than a decade ago concerning Iraq.
While in the U.S. Senate, Biden (D-Dela.) was a leading advocate of a proposal to divide Iraq into a loose federation of self-governing Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish regions. He authored a non-binding resolution on the subject which drew bipartisan support and passed 75-23.
But the proposal was deeply unpopular in the region, and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad warned at the time that any attempt to divide the country as suggested “would produce extraordinary suffering and bloodshed.”