Accessibility links

Interview with Congressman Joseph Pitts - 2002-03-14


MR. BORGIDA:
Now joining us live, another member of the U.S. Congress, Congressman Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the House International Relations Committee. In January, Congressman Pitt visited Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Thank you so much for joining us today.

REP. PITTS:
My pleasure.

MR. BORGIDA:
I know it has been a busy day for you. Thanks so much for making the time for us. You have been closely watching, I'm sure, events in eastern Afghanistan. It appears that that phase of the mission is coming to some close. What is your assessment, Congressman, of the effectiveness of this most recent mission, described by many as the worst combat since 9/11?

REP. PITTS:
I think it has been effective and I think we are on target with everything we had planned. It is going to be a longer effort than many of us probably had anticipated, but the President has been saying, "be patient." We are going to have to continue the support and just be patient, because it takes a long time to root out all of these operatives in the caves. There are thousands of caves in those mountains.

MR. BORGIDA:
You're calling for patience, as did President Bush. When you go home to Pennsylvania, what are your constituents telling you, particularly now that there have been deaths and injured servicemen coming back? Are they as patient? Are they willing to hang in there?

REP. PITTS:
Yes, they are. I think they realize the big picture. And that is that these terrorist organizations are seeking, as we speak, to get weapons of mass destruction. If they get weapons of mass destruction, we are not talking thousands, we're talking hundreds of thousands of victims. And we cannot permit them to get that capability. And that is what this is all about, not just justice or retribution, but preventing them from getting weapons of mass destruction.

MR. BORGIDA:
Well, let's talk about that. You raise the issue -- is the United States and our allies doing enough to make sure that plutonium and biological weapons and so forth are being monitored carefully enough so that they cannot be taken or stolen by terrorists?

REP. PITTS:
I think we are doing a great deal more than we had been. I think people are aware now of the importance of these inspectors, for instance, getting into Iraq. I think the President has escalated somewhat the importance of this by naming those three governments as "axis of evil" governments. So I think we are, but we are going to have to continue to be very vigilant. As you saw with the Homeland Security Chief's recommendation, we are getting levels of alert. So we are refining our capability.

MR. BORGIDA:
Congressman, let's put aside for a moment the military situation in Afghanistan and talk for a moment about the politics of that country, a country that has seen its share of wars and turmoil and so forth. And certainly the warlords and tribal affairs play a big role in the body politic of that country. Let's look beyond this moment, and down the road, the months ahead in Afghanistan. Are you confident that, no matter what happens on the military front, that Afghanistan can stabilize and be a country that we hope it can be?

REP. PITTS:
I have met with Chairman Karzai a couple of times -- I met with him in Afghanistan, I met with him when he was here -- and in talking with others who have talked with him, my assessment is that if anybody can do this, he can do it. He can put together the kind of stable government. Now, of course, the Loya Jirga will determine who really is in power. I'm hoping that they will draft him. He seems to be the kind of honest, responsive, accessible kind of a leader who can build a coalition, with the multifaceted groups and ethnic groups there. So I think we support him. They will be stable. He can do the job. But he is going to need us to stay with them this time, and not desert them like we did after Russia left.

MR. BORGIDA:
When Mr. Karzai was in Washington he was up at Capitol Hill. Did you get the sense that many of your colleagues embraced him as you are?

REP. PITTS:
Yes, I sure did. We had a long couple of meetings with him and they went very well.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's shift quickly to Pakistan. I know you have been there as well and you have been watching the politics there. Is President Musharraf a stable leader at this point?

REP. PITTS:
Absolutely.

MR. BORGIDA:
There is an awful lot of instability in his country. Is he also stable?

REP. PITTS:
Yes. I have met with him many more times and I have been there several times. He has made some very courageous decisions to stand with us, to crack down on the terrorists, the groups, the extremists, do a number of things in his country. And from talking to the people there and others, he has the support of the vast majority of the people. Now, he does put himself at some political risk, because the extremists groups will make him a target, they will go after him. But he seems to be doing an excellent job and have the support of his people, and he surely has been a good ally of ours.

MR. BORGIDA:
In the last minute or so that we have left, Congressman, the Philippines is now another front in the war against terrorism. I know you spent part of your childhood in the Philippines. Assess that particular front for us. Could that be a long stay, do you think?

REP. PITTS:
I grew up and I hunted on some of those little islands. Probably no other member of Congress has been on Basilan Island. I know those parts of the world, the jungle territory there. It's a different kind of warfare. We have some 600 Special Ops troops there giving advice and some technological help. I think, yes, that they can be rooted out. They are just on a few of those southern islands. Mindanao is the largest one where they have sympathizers. But with the support of the Philippine military, really going after them, I think they can root them out.

MR. BORGIDA:
Congressman Joe Pitts, a member of Congress from the State of Pennsylvania, thanks so much for joining us today. I know it has been a busy and hectic day for you with voting and so forth, but we are glad you made time for us. Thanks.

REP. PITTS:
My pleasure. Any time.

XS
SM
MD
LG