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February 11, 2020

King on Counterterrorism: We Need to Avoid ‘Geopolitical Whack-a-Mole’

Senator raises possibility of a longer, smaller presence for United States and allies in Southeast Asia

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) questioned expert witnesses during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee focused on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. During his questioning, Senator King emphasized the diffuse nature of the terrorist threats facing America and sought the witnesses’ opinions on the best long-term ways to deal with terrorist threats in the region.

“Let me talk about the ‘haven for terrorism’ argument, because that’s really the fundamental justification,” said Senator King in the hearing. “Is that a realistic justification now, because there are other places that can be havens – Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Sudan – is it sort of geopolitical whack-a-mole? Are we going to focus on one place and our adversaries are going to rise up somewhere else…I mean, the haven for terrorism argument reminds me of the domino theory of the 70’s or the 60’s as a kind of all-purpose justification.”

“We’ve maintained a troop presence in Japan, South Korea, Germany, other parts of Europe for 70 years, is this a case that you would make to the American people that we need an indefinite presence – not at a terribly high level, but a level that will enable us to keep our foot on the throat of the terrorists… I think you’d agree that if that’s going to be the case, than someone has got to tell the American people that,” Senator King concluded.

Earlier in the hearing, Senator King noted the contrast in presentation and tone when comparing assessments he receives in classified briefings held in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, against those he receives in public hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee: “We’ve been having hearings in the Intelligence Committee on Afghanistan and hearings here; there were times I wasn’t sure if we were talking about the same country,” observed Senator King.  “So I think it would be very helpful if this committee wants to take an active role that we have a classified hearing with the intelligence community about what their perceptions are in Afghanistan … they have over the years had a very different view than the witnesses that we’ve had at this committee.”

Witnesses before today’s committee included General John M. Keane, USA (Ret.), Chairman, Institute For The Study Of War, Former Vice Chief Of Staff, U.S. Army; Dr. Colin F. Jackson, Professor, Strategy And Policy Department, United States Naval War College, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Afghanistan, Pakistan, And Central Asia; and Brigadier General Kimberly C. Field, USA (Ret.), Executive Director, Albritton Center For Grand Strategy, Bush School Of Government And Public Service, Former Senior Advisor To The Commander, Operation Resolute Support.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator King is recognized as a thoughtful voice on national security and foreign policy issues in the Senate. In addition to his committee work, he serves on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the Senate North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Observer Group, and is Co-Chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.

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