Leon Panetta: It's a mistake for the U.S. to count on the Taliban in Afghanistan

  • The Taliban, who were ousted from power by the U.S. in 2001, now control nearly all of Afghanistan.
  • “I think the Taliban is not to be trusted. The reality is that the Taliban has provided safe haven for terrorists in the past, and they will continue to provide a safe haven for terrorists,” said Panetta, who served as defense secretary from July 2011 to February 2013 under former President Barack Obama.

Leon Panetta told CNBC he believes it is a mistake for the United States to count on the Taliban for cooperation in Afghanistan on the heels of President Joe Biden's speech saying that his administration would hold the Taliban to its word. 

"I think the Taliban is not to be trusted. The reality is that the Taliban has provided safe haven for terrorists in the past, and they will continue to provide a safe haven for terrorists," said Panetta, who served as defense secretary from July 2011 to February 2013 under President Barack Obama. 

Panetta told "The News with Shepard Smith"  that he thinks Al Qaeda will re-establish itself in Afghanistan, and cited an interview with a Taliban commander who said there was 'no proof' Osama bin Laden was behind 9/11.

"If the Taliban is defending bin Laden in 9/11, then you know they're going to continue to provide a safe haven for Al Qaeda as well," said Panetta, who served as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from February 2009 to June 2011.

The Taliban, ousted from power by the U.S. shortly after the 9/11 attacks, now control nearly all of the country.

The former Defense Secretary said the withdrawal from Afghanistan "doesn't have to" define Biden's foreign policy. In order for that to be the case, however, Panetta said Biden will have to evacuate the Americans and U.S. allies remaining in Afghanistan, make it clear that the U.S. will still pursue terrorists in the country, push the Taliban to recognize human rights and acknowledge his mistakes. 

"Ultimately, he's going to have to say that he has learned the lessons from this experience in Afghanistan and the mistakes that have been made," said Panetta.  

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment. 

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