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New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, a veteran of the War on Terror and a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves, said it is “infuriating” that the Taliban are “back in control” 20 years after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, telling Fox News that the outcome of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was “foreseeable, predictable, avoidable and should have been prevented.”
Zeldin, who launched his New York gubernatorial campaign this summer, reflected on that day 20 years ago.
“It was a day that none of us will ever forget where we were,” Zeldin said, describing sitting in a classroom at Albany Law School, learning from a classmate’s “harrowing scream” from the hallway what was happening.
“Being 41 years old, my life has been broken into two parts – half of my life was before Sept. 11, 2001, and half of my life has been after Sept. 11, 2001,” Zeldin said.
Zeldin, at the time, was already signed up for Army ROTC, but told Fox News that “from that moment forward, I couldn’t get on active duty fast enough.”
“I vividly remember the sounds, the visuals, the motions, the yellow ribbons on all of the trees on the streets, the flags going up from home to home – a sense of patriotism and unity I had never experienced at any other point in my life,” Zeldin said.
Zeldin was commissioned in the U.S. Army in May 2003, and began active duty in September 2003. He was deployed in 2006 to Iraq as part of the War on Terror.
“The 20th anniversary of 9/11 is a moment of deep reflection for all of us,” Zeldin said. “We’ll all be thinking about where we were, and how much our country and world changes, and will reflect on and honor and remember the many who sacrificed so much on that day and since.”
Zeldin shifted to the present, amid the developments that have unfolded in Afghanistan following what he described as the “extremely flawed” U.S. troop withdrawal.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., on May 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
(Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
“I would describe the emotion as infuriating,” Zeldin said. “The consequences of leaving Americans and billions of dollars of our weaponry behind in the hands of the Taliban is infuriating.”
“The deception, the poor planning, the poor execution certainly leads to all of us being so upset by the reality that the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is going to be spent with the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan, with a nation seen as a safe haven to terror, and the prospects of al Qaeda and ISIS rising as a result,” Zeldin said.
He added: “And the worst part of it was that it was foreseeable, predictable and avoidable, and should have been prevented.”
Zeldin warned that the developments overseas are on “the path toward leaving our nation domestically more vulnerable to threats.”
“Creating a nation as a safe haven of terrorism, and likely allowing the rise of groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, that has ramifications beyond Afghanistan’s borders,” Zeldin said. “Having a president and a commander in chief who doesn’t seem to grasp how, and why, adversaries should be confronted, and how to communicate honestly on these foreign policy issues with the American public, all creates an increased vulnerability here at home.”
Zeldin added that his “biggest fear” has been the “possibility of these adversaries around the world seeing the vulnerabilities at the highest level of the U.S. government, and then seeking to fill that vacuum with aggressiveness the United States does not know how to combat.”
“One of the advantages of the post-9/11 War on Terror was that much of the fight was fought overseas, instead of being fought here at home,” he said. “Combine that with a move by Democrats in power in New York and Albany and Washington seeking to erode support of law enforcement, and take away key tools, resources they need to do their jobs safely and effectively – that also results in an increased vulnerability here at home.”
Zeldin, shifting to New York and his gubernatorial campaign, said the state needs to support law enforcement “more, not less,” and called for a “strong partnership” between different levels of government and agencies.
“The NYPD is the best police force in the entire world and due to politicians turning their backs on the NYPD, we’ve seen a retirement package surge and suicides increase, morale at new lows, and we have to reverse that,” Zeldin said. “We have to support our police forces at the most local of levels with resources they need to do their jobs well.”
Zeldin also proposed more cohesion between state law enforcement and the federal government – specifically the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the CIA.
“There is intelligence and tools that the federal government has, and I want to do everything in my power to strengthen that partnership,” Zeldin said, adding that he believes communications and coordination between federal law enforcement and the state needs to be “increased.”
“More chemistry, more teamwork – an alliance – in order to enforce the laws and keep people safe,” Zeldin said.
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