Panetta: Taliban hasn't changed, will provide 'safe haven for terrorists'

Panetta: Taliban hasn't changed, will provide 'safe haven for terrorists'
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Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Taliban that took over Afghanistan last month has not changed since it last ruled the country and warned that the insurgent group would “continue to provide a safe haven for terrorists.”

“I think that the Taliban taking over Afghanistan is pretty much the same Taliban that controlled Afghanistan on 9/11,” Panetta told Greta Van Susteren in an interview to be aired on Sunday. “And that was pretty much confirmed recently, when they appointed hardliners to their government, people who were in power on 9/11, and in addition, appointed Haqqani as interior minister, a global terrorist, really, to be interior secretary and in charge of internal security.”

Earlier this week, Sirajuddin Haqqani, an FBI-wanted militant, was named as the acting interior minister. The FBI allege he was involved in a 2008 incident in which six people died following a Kabul hotel attack. The agency also accuses him of being involved in planning an attempted assassination of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai. 

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In the span of over a week in August, the landscape in Afghanistan drastically changed as major cities and areas were overtaken by the insurgent group. The events culminated in the fall of Kabul in mid-August on the same day that former President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, claiming that he wanted to avoid further bloodshed. 

The Taliban has previously said that it will protect the rights of women under Islamic framework and will not go after enemies. However, much of the international community is increasingly skeptical that the Taliban will stay true to its word. 

Panetta mentioned that recent reports proved contrary to the Taliban’s statements.

“I am reading, and those actions and the other actions that are being taken to shut down protests and really inhibit women's rights there, that this is a Taliban that will indeed continue to provide a safe haven for terrorists, and that spells trouble for the United States,” he said.

The former defense secretary explained that he had no hopes that the Taliban might prove itself differently and explained that “it would be wise for the United States and the rest of the world not to trust the Taliban in terms of their work.”

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When asked if he expected the Taliban to provide al-Qaeda a safe haven and foster the group’s objectives, he grimly warned that the U.S. should be prepared for future attacks.

“I don't think there's any question. There was a recent interview by one of the spokesman for the Taliban, where he was asked about bin Laden's role in 9/11, and he had the gall to say that he has not seen any evidence that bin Laden was involved in the 9/11 attack,” Panetta said.

“And if that is the case, then it's clear to me that they're going to continue to support Al-Qaeda, and allow Al-Qaeda to basically continue to develop and expand," he continued. "And I think they will plan additional attacks on our country, as well as elsewhere.”

Updated: 12:50 p.m.