The specter of September 11 haunts the national security establishment. As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, freshman Congressman Andrew Garbarino (R–Sayville) has access to classified information on threats to the United States. The exit last month of the last American troops from Afghanistan has him worried.
Here are parts of an interview Anton Media Group recently held with Garbarino, whose 2nd District covers the south shore of both Nassau and Suffolk counties.
“Our main goal right now is still working on getting people out that we should get out,” he said. “We’re still dealing with people in our district—and I know that a lot of my colleagues are still dealing with citizens or green card holders that are trying to get out. So we’re making sure that gets done.”
None of your constituents are still stuck in Afghanistan waiting to get out?
The last citizen [from my district] got out, but we still have family members of constituents who are still there.
And they’re asking for help from your office?
Yes. A lot. We’ve had more requests than I thought we would.
What can your office do?
We work with the State Department to make sure that they’re in contact with the people who are over there to get them out and everybody has their paperwork in.
What prompted you to comment on faraway Afghanistan?
We all know what happened 20 years ago with 9/11 and where a lot of those terrorists were trained. What happens over in Afghanistan definitely has an effect on what happens in the United States, especially with the possibility of terrorists coming back and attacking our homeland once again. Even though Afghanistan is halfway across the world, we still need to worry about it in relation to our homeland security here.
In what ways?
With the Taliban in charge they’re going to be printing documents [such as passports or visas]. My concern is not having people with bad designs flying in from Afghanistan directly into the U.S.—I think we have a pretty good system in place to prevent that. My concern is with the way people are getting across the border, where someone can fly into a South American or Central American country and cross over [our southern border]. When I visited the border and met with the chief of patrol of the El Paso district—the same chief who met with the vice president [Kamala Harris] when she went down—she told us they’re not just detaining people from Mexico and Central America and South America. They’re detaining people from Southeast Asia and Middle East. That’s a lot of people who are trying to get across that way.
Wouldn’t border agents be able to screen such people?
They’re coming across the miles and miles of unfenced and unsecured borders.
Do you agree with former President Trump and now President Biden that it was time for the United States to leave Afghanistan, that we were pouring money and losing lives needlessly?
I don’t think we should have pulled out and what happened was terrible. It was completely botched and mismanaged. We still have American citizens there and allies and Afghans who helped us in our 20 years—that just shows that the pullout was botched. I wasn’t in Congress when the decision was made under former President Trump to pull out and I know that there were people in Congress that did not support the decision then. I don’t understand why we had to pull out completely. I think we should have maintained the bases like we have in Korea and Germany and Japan. We have bases all over the world. We gave up our one base in the region [Bagram] and I think that was a mistake. If there are any terrorist actions going on or terrorist training facilities we need to go and get them. We don’t have the ability to man that mission from our base in Afghanistan anymore. I wasn’t around last year and I din’t have the briefings I have now, but I think it was a mistake to give up our base.
President Biden talked about an over-the-horizon ability to attack if there is a resurgence of Al Quaeda and other terrorist camps and activities. The Taliban has to gain legitimacy with the Afghan people and international community. Do you think they’ll tolerate having terrorists within the country?
They did 20 years ago [when they were last in power], when we had Al Quaeda and 9/11. I don’t have too much faith in [the Taliban] preventing attacks. I understand that they need legitimacy because that will [get them] aid from the IMF and World Bank. I just don’t know if they have the ability. They haven’t shown that in the past.
Congress gave then-President George W. Bush authorization to conduct a global war on terror in 2001. Should that authorization be rescinded and what is your view of Congress and war?
It seems to have given up its constitutional prerogative to declare war and given presidents a free hand in conducting military operations.
Right now the authorization is still in effect for Afghanistan. The president still has the authority in Afghanistan to fight the war on terror. As far as [the constitution] the president can’t declare war on another country without Congress. Just like any [approval of] treaties and any appropriations of funds also have to pass through Congress. So we are a co-equal branch of government. As commander-in-chief he does have command of the armed forces, but he just can’t go to war with anybody without Congress willing to authorize it. If there are any actions that need to happen in Afghanistan, those powers are still there. But again, not having a base there makes it very difficult.