Right-wing media outlets have continued to attack Democratic Massachusetts Senate candidate Martha Coakley for her recent comments about terrorism in Afghanistan, often by distorting her remarks on the subject. But the context of Coakley's comments make clear that she was referring to Al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan -- echoing numerous military experts' statements regarding Al Qaeda's diminished presence in Afghanistan.
Right-wing media attack and distort Martha Coakley's comments on Afghanistan
Jim Hoft: "Martha Coakley is Not Just Wrong on Terror War -- She's Dangerous." In a January 12 blog post, Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft quoted from portions of Coakley's statement on Afghanistan under the headline, "Martha Coakley is Not Just Wrong on Terror War -- She's Dangerous." Hoft posted a video that combined Coakley's statement during the debate with footage of the suicide bomber responsible for the recent attack on CIA officers in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday December 30 Jordanian doctor and Al-Qaeda blogger Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi killed 7 CIA officers in a suicide bomb attack at an outpost in southeastern Afghanistan. Before he murdered the Americans in Afghanistan he recorded a tape with the local Taliban leader. The Taliban released the tape after his death.
On Monday Senate Candidate Martha Coakley told Massachusetts voters that it was time to pull out of Afghanistan. Coakley said she was not sure there was a way to succeed.
Hot Air: Coakley "declared Afghanistan to be terrorist-free." In a January 12 Hot Air post, Ed Morrissey highlighted Hoft's post and said, "Coakley had a Gerald Ford-esque moment on the war in Afghanistan. She declared Afghanistan to be terrorist-free and wants the troops to come home now." According to Morrissey, Ford's comments that "Poland wasn't under the direction of the Soviet Union" caused him to lose the 1976 presidential race to Jimmy Carter. Morrissey hoped "the voters of Massachusetts will make the same determination about Coakley in the aftermath of this debate and send someone much wiser than Carter or Coakley to Washington."
Fox Nation: "Coakley: There Are No More Terrorists in Afghanistan." On January 13, Fox Nation posted Hoft's video under the link, "Coakley: There Are No More Terrorists in Afghanistan":
Fox & Friends again cropped Coakley's comments about Afghanistan. On January 14, introducing an interview with Coakley's opponent, Republican candidate Scott Brown, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy suggested that recent public opinion polls that show a tightening of the Senate race "may have something to do with her Afghanistan strategy." After airing a portion of Coakley's debate comments, Doocy said, "Really? The terrorists are gone from Afghanistan?" As Media Matters for America has previously noted, Fox & Friends has repeatedly attacked Coakley for saying there are no "terrorists" in Afghanistan, and at one point falsely claimed she said the "Taliban" is "no longer a threat."
New York Post: Coakley "seems to think" Afghanistan "is terror-free." In a January 14 article entitled, "Mass Miracle?" Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr called Coakley's debate performance "lackluster" and asserted that Coakley "inform[ed] the audience that there were no terrorists left in Afghanistan, two days after one of the slain CIA operatives was buried in nearby Bolton and on the same day that three US servicemen were killed in the nation that she seems to think is terror-free."
Weekly Standard calls Coakley statement a "serious gaffe." In a January 12 article reporting on the debate, The Weekly Standard declared that Coakley had "committed at least one serious gaffe when she said there are no terrorists left in Afghanistan because they've all gone to Yemen or Pakistan" and that "Barack Obama would beg to disagree."
Coakley was referring to Al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan
Coakley: "Let's focus our efforts on where Al Qaeda is." Coakley's comments were made during a January 11 debate at the University of Massachusetts. Moderator David Gergen asked Coakley, "[H]ow do you think we then succeed in Afghanistan?" Coakley replied: "I'm not sure there is a way to succeed. If the goal was -- and the mission in Afghanistan was to go in because we believed that the Taliban was giving harbor to terrorists. We supported that. I supported that goal. They're gone. They're not there anymore. They're in, apparently Yemen, they're in Pakistan. Let's focus our efforts on where Al Qaeda is." She added: "[T]he focus should be getting the appropriate information on individuals who are trained, who represent a threat to us, and use the force necessary to go after those individuals."
Military and security experts and officials agree that Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan is "diminished"
Jim Jones: "The Al Qaeda presence is very diminished. ... No bases. No ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies." On October 4, 2009, CNN's John King asked national security adviser Jim Jones, "[D]oes the return of the Taliban in your view, sir, equal the return of a sanctuary for al Qaeda?" Jones responded: "Well, I think this is one of the central issues and, you know, it could. Obviously, the good news is that Americans should feel at least good about in Afghanistan is that the Al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country. No bases. No ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies." [State of the Union, 10/4/09]
Wash. Post: Senior U.S. military intelligence official says Al Qaeda has "fewer than 100 members" in Afghanistan. Reporting on "the relative decline of Al-Qaeda" in Afghanistan, The Washington Post wrote: "Although the war in Afghanistan began as a response to al-Qaeda terrorism, there are perhaps fewer than 100 members of the group left in the country, according to a senior U.S. military intelligence official in Kabul who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The official estimated that there are 300 al-Qaeda members in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where the group is based, compared with tens of thousands of Taliban insurgents on either side of the border." [The Washington Post, 11/11/09]
NY Times: Senior White House official stated that Al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan. The New York Times reported that a senior Obama administration official stated that "Al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan." [The New York Times, 10/7/09]
Petraeus: "Al Qaida, if you will -- is not based, per se, in Afghanistan." In a May 2009 interview, King said to Petraeus, "No Al Qaida at all in Afghanistan. Is that an exaggeration, General Petraeus, or is that true?" Petraeus responded:
PETRAEUS: No, I would agree with that assessment. Certainly, Al Qaida and its affiliates. Again, remember that this is, as I mentioned earlier, a syndicate of extremist organizations, some of which are truly transnational extremists. In other words, don't just conduct attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and India, but even throughout the rest of the world, as we saw in the U.K. a couple of years ago. They do come in and out of Afghanistan, but the Al Qaida -- precise Al Qaida, if you will -- is not based, per se, in Afghanistan, although its elements and certainly its affiliates -- Baitullah Mehsud's group, commander Nazir Khaqani (ph) network and others, certainly do have enclaves and sanctuaries in certain parts of eastern Afghanistan. And then the Afghan Taliban, of course, has a number of districts in which it has its fighters and its shadow government, if you will, even.
But I think, no, I think that's an accurate assessment, and that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan -- that very, very mountainous, rugged terrain just east of the Afghan border and in the western part of Pakistan -- is the locus of the leadership of these organizations, although they do, again, go into Afghanistan, certainly, and conduct operations against our troops, and have tried, certainly, to threaten all the way to Kabul at various times. [State of the Union, 5/10/09]
AP: McChrystal stated, "I do not see indications of a large al-Qaida presence in Afghanistan now." The Associated Press reported, "The top commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan said Friday he sees no signs of a major al-Qaida presence in the country, but says the terror group still maintains close links to insurgents," and quoted Gen. Stanley McChrystal at the Dutch Defense Ministry commenting, "I do not see indications of a large al-Qaida presence in Afghanistan now." [AP, 9/11/09]