Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno watch Thursday as a carry team moves the remains of Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene off of a C-17 cargo plane at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Greene was fatally shot on Tuesday during an insider attack. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
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WASHINGTON — Two veteran Republican lawmakers are blasting the Obama administration’s contention that al-Qaida’s core in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been substantially weakened.
In a Wednesday press briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest lauded “hard-won progress” by “our men and women in uniform who've been serving in Afghanistan for more than 12 years.”
Despite the death of Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, who was shot on Tuesday by an Afghan soldier, Earnest said, “there is no doubt that what previously was ... a base of operations for core al-Qaida no longer exists.”
Senior Obama administration officials have said for almost two years that al-Qaida leaders in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region have been severely weakened — an oft-used phrase is “on the run.”
GOP lawmakers do not see it that way. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said Thursday that “some notion that core al-Qaida doesn't exist … is very, very concerning.”
“That is a completely false narrative,” Rogers said on Fox News Channel.
And House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said in a late Wednesday statement that Greene’s death shows the US should not withdraw troops from Afghanistan, as US President Barack Obama intends to do by the end of 2016.
“Many Americans and their allies have fallen in the effort to defeat a terrible enemy, and this incident demonstrates their courage in the face of danger,” McKeon said. “The event only underscores the importance of leaving Afghanistan when the job is finished — rather than stubbornly adhering to arbitrary political deadlines.
“The Armed Services Committee has and will continue to conduct its rigorous oversight of our mission in Afghanistan,” he said.
Neither Rogers nor McKeon cited specific intelligence indicating an immediate threat from al-Qaida’s core group in the Af-Pak area.
But Rogers did say he is worried about a possible competition between al-Qaida and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is now destabilizing Iraq. Al-Qaida kicked out ISIL for being too harsh on fellow Muslims.
“Here's my fear … they both want to put some points on the board when it comes to a terrorist activity to show the world that they are the terrorist organization that should be listened to,” Rogers said. “And we know this through chatter and other analytical products that out there that … [ISIL] would like to have a Western-style attack.”
White House officials say al-Qaida’s cells in places like Yemen and North Africa are now more potent and a bigger threat to the United States.