By Rick Pearson, Tribune reporter
September 7, 2011
Continued U.S. aid to Pakistan is both "naive" and "counterproductive"
given that nation's backing for a terrorist network targeting American
forces and working to destabilize Afghanistan, Republican U.S. Sen. Mark
Kirk said Tuesday.
Kirk, returning from a two-week Navy Reserve stint in Afghanistan participating in counternarcotics intelligence, suggested that the United States should enter talks with India to help make up for the departure of U.S. military forces and money from Afghanistan.
Asked if creating an alliance with India would turn Pakistan into an enemy against the United States, Kirk replied: "I think they already are. They are clinging to that last bit of support to the U.S. government to do operations against a very limited number of terrorist targets."
Kirk said Pakistan's intelligence network has backed and granted haven to the Haqqani terrorist network, an organization he said is now more powerful than al-Qaida. The Haqqani has attacked Americans and is a major threat to Afghanistan, Kirk said, adding that Pakistani government officials who deny backing the terrorist network are telling "direct lies to the American people."
Kirk said it costs $11 billion a year to back up Afghanistan's military and police forces, which are preparing for a U.S. military withdrawal. He said President Barack Obama could "thread the needle artfully on Afghanistan" by withdrawing U.S. troops over time while urging India to pick up the financial slack.
In his remarks to the Tribune editorial board, Kirk also said he didn't believe tea party activists would push Republicans' choice of a presidential nominee too far to the right and said his "gut" tells him the race is down to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Kirk, who is not endorsing a contender at this point, is heading up a statewide Republican fundraising effort with a presidential straw poll one year out from the general election. The contest for GOP presidential nominee remains fluid with each new entrant quickly rising to the top before falling, he said.
"Right now, it's Perry. I take it more seriously because he is a big-state governor," Kirk said. "But my gut is this is largely a two-man race right now and the other candidates will sort out."
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