The death of Osama bin Laden provides an opportunity for the Obama administration to escalate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, former Sen. Chuck Hagel said Tuesday.

"I believe the president will come up with a cogent way to disengage that's responsible," Hagel said during a telephone interview from Washington. "He's got to start heading toward the exits."

President Barack Obama already is on course toward a July decision on beginning the withdrawal of U.S. ground troops, with a judgment yet to be made on how many and how fast.

"We need to start winding this down. The worst thing we can do is get bogged down (with) no way of getting out," Hagel said, while military casualties mount, resources are squandered and Americans become increasingly viewed as occupiers and oppressors.

Hagel, who is co-chairman of the president's intelligence advisory board, stressed that he was speaking only for himself and expressing a purely personal view.

For some time, Hagel has believed it would be wiser to target al-Qaida operatives and terrorists with drones, smart bombs and special forces rather than by placing 100,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

The pursuit of bin Laden and al-Qaida was "the reason we invaded Afghanistan 10 years ago" following the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, Hagel said.

"The Taliban and al-Qaida are two different elements. 

"We have lost our purpose, our objective. We are in a universe of unpredictables and uncontrollables," he said.

The long pursuit and eventual killing of bin Laden "should reassure America and the world that America is still a leader and we can and will get the job done," Hagel said.

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"That is very important for the world to realize," he said.

The success of that mission is due to "the magnificent performance and service of our men and women who made this happen," Hagel said, and it demonstrates vast improvement in U.S. intelligence capabilities.

He cited cooperation between U.S. military and civilian intelligence agencies and operatives, the increase in linguists and human intelligence on the ground and improved relationships with intelligence services in other countries.

"Let us recognize our intelligence is only as good as our relationships around the world," he said. 

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Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at dwalton@journalstar.com.


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