(CNSNews.com) – Sweeping changes to the U.S. security apparatus after 9/11 and the military action against al-Qaeda have helped to make Americans safer, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said in remarks aired on Sunday, but drew a distinction between that assessment and the recent relinquishing of intelligence capabilities on the ground in Afghanistan.
“We have lost the eyes and ears on the ground in Afghanistan that helped us to know where the terrorists were,” Rice told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“We have lost Bagram and other airfields that were able to allow us to run certain – even drone operations out of them.”
Rice was President George W. Bush’s national security advisor when al-Qaeda attacked America 20 years ago. She went on to serve as secretary of state in his second term.
Host Dana Bash asked her about her assertion in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Thursday that America was safer now than before 9/11.
Bash said recent polling “suggests Americans don’t agree with you, for lots of reasons. Perhaps one of the reasons is looking at what's happening in Afghanistan, the Taliban back in charge. Why do you think the U.S. is safer?”
Rice cited the establishment of the National Counterterrorism Center and the Homeland Security Department, both of which were a direct consequence of the 9/11 attack.
She also argued that U.S. military action had “disabled” al-Qaeda, and that “denying them the territory of Afghanistan meant that they couldn’t train and they couldn’t operate in the way that they did on that day.”
“But I would separate all of that, all that we achieved on that – in that 20 years with our allies from NATO and our allies from Afghanistan, the part that doesn’t make me feel very comforted is that we have lost the eyes and ears on the ground in Afghanistan that helped us to know where the terrorists were, that allowed us to run the kinds of operations that you sometimes have to run against terrorists.”
Rice said that she would “be the first to say we have lost some of the capabilities – but that shouldn’t diminish the capabilities that we still have.”
“We are still safer,” she said. “I hope we can remain that safe into the future.”
In response to recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address announced the creation of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which under legislation passed the following year was renamed the National Counterterrorism Center, and placed under the leadership of the Director of National Intelligence.
In an even more far-reaching reform arising out of the terrorist attack, the 2002 Homeland Security Act created the Department of Homeland Security, incorporating 22 federal government agencies into a single department dedicated to the defense and security of the homeland.
President Biden’s decision not to leave even a small military footprint in Afghanistan beyond his August 31 deadline for withdrawing U.S. and coalition troops has been controversial. As a result of the chaotic end of the deployment, not even a U.S. Embassy remains operational in Kabul.
Biden and top Pentagon officials maintain that the U.S. military will retain adequate “over the horizon” capabilities, both for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) purposes and when needed for counter-terrorist strikes.
Neither Pakistan nor Central Asian nations have yet agreed to allow the U.S. to use bases on their territory, with Russia strongly opposing any such move in the latter case, and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier having ruled it out in the former.
Until and unless that changes, the nearest feasible launchpad for “over the horizon” operations in Afghanistan would be the U.S. Al Udeid airbase in Doha – some 1,500 miles from Kabul if crossing Iranian airspace is to be avoided – or U.S. warships in the Arabian Sea.