CIA Director William Burns (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images/Pool)

CIA Director William Burns (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images/Pool)

(CNSNews.com) – CIA Director Bill Burns testified in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on April 14 of this year and was asked a question about Afghanistan by Sen. Susan Collins (R.-Me.): “If, as many experts predict, the Taliban will make significant territorial gains once U.S. forces are gone, what would be the implications for U.S. interests both regionally, here at home, and globally?”

Burns said in his response (which is transcribed in its entirety below): “I think we have to be clear-eyed about the reality, looking at the potential terrorism challenge, that both al-Qaida and ISIS in Afghanistan remain intent on recovering the ability to attack U.S. targets, whether it’s in the region, in the West, or ultimately in the homeland.

“After years of sustained counterterrorism pressure, the reality is that neither of them have that capacity today and that there are terrorist groups, whether it’s al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula or in other parts of the world, who represent much more serious threats today,” Burns continued.

“I think it is also clear,” he said, “that our ability to keep that threat in Afghanistan in check–from either al-Qaida or ISIS in Afghanistan–has benefited greatly from the presence of U.S. and coalition militaries on the ground and in the air, fueled by intelligence provided by the CIA and our other intelligence partners.

“When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish,” he said. “That’s simply a fact.”

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines who was also testifying before the committee that day expressed her agreement with Burns’ analysis. “I think I fully agree with Director Burns’ analysis, and that is the intelligence community’s perspective on this issue,” Haines said.

That same day, President Joe Biden announced that U.S. forces would begin their “final withdrawal” from Afghanistan on May 1.

“It’s time for American troops to come home,” Biden said in a televised address.

“When I came to office, I inherited a diplomatic agreement, duly negotiated between the government of the United States and the Taliban, that all U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, just three months after my inauguration,” said Biden. “That’s what we inherited — that commitment.

“It is perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself, but it was an agreement made by the United States government, and that means something,” said Biden. “So, in keeping with that agreement and with our national interests, the United States will begin our final withdrawal—begin it on May 1 of this year.

“We will not conduct a hasty rush to the exit,” Biden said. “We’ll do it responsibly, deliberately, and safely. And we will do it in full coordination with our allies and partners, who now have more forces in Afghanistan than we do.”

Here is a transcript of the exchange that Sen. Collins (R.-Me.) had with CIA Director Bill Burns:

Sen. Susan Collins: “Director Burns, let me take this opportunity to thank you publicly for your focus on the medical injuries suffered by CIA and other personnel that are commonly referred to as the Havana syndrome. I’m going to have a question for you on that when we’re in closed session, but I did want to publicly thank you and acknowledge your efforts.

“I want to turn to Afghanistan, Director Burns. Our country is already sharply reduced its footprint in this country. There’s no doubt that Americans are tired of our endless wars in Afghanistan. But there are many experts who are warning of the adverse consequences of President Biden completely withdrawing our troops and our presence in Afghanistan. If, as many experts predict, the Taliban will make significant territorial gains once U.S. forces are gone, what would be the implications for U.S. interests both regionally here at home and globally?

“And if I’ve directed it to the wrong person, feel free to–”

CIA Director Bill Burns: “Well, Senator Collins, thank you very much for the question and thank you for your earlier kind comments.

“I promised in my confirmation hearing that I take very seriously ensuring that our colleagues at CIA, but also working with my partners on this panel, receive the care that they deserve and that we get to the bottom of the question of what caused these incidents and who might have been responsible. And I look forward to staying in close touch with you on that. I know my colleagues at CIA deeply appreciate your personal commitment on this issue.

“With regard to Afghanistan, I’ll begin and then turn to Director Haines.

“I guess what I would say at the start is that, you know: I think we have to be clear-eyed about the reality, looking at the potential terrorism challenge, that both al-Qaida and ISIS in Afghanistan remain intent on recovering the ability to attack U.S. targets, whether it’s in the region, in the West, or ultimately in the homeland. After years of sustained counterterrorism pressure, the reality is that neither of them have that capacity today and that there are terrorist groups, whether it’s al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula or in other parts of the world, who represent much more serious threats today.

“I think it is also clear that our ability to keep that threat in Afghanistan in check from either al-Qaida or ISIS in Afghanistan has benefited greatly from the presence of U.S. and coalition militaries on the ground and in the air, fueled by intelligence provided by the CIA and our other intelligence partners. When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact.

“It is also a fact, however, that after withdrawal, whenever that time comes, the CIA and all of our partners in the U.S. government will retain a suite of capabilities, some of them remaining in place, some of them that we’ll generate that can help us to anticipate and contest any rebuilding effort. And further, it’s a fact that there are a number of other variables, I think, involved on that question of rebuilding. It’s the role the Taliban themselves play.

“They’ve been fighting against ISIS in Afghanistan for many years, whom they view as a very potent ideological rival. They have an obligation to ensure that al-Qaida is never again able to use Afghanistan as a platform for external plotting. There’s the question of the continuing capacity of the government–of Afghanistan with our support to fight terrorists. And there’s the question of whether or not al-Qaida or ISIS in Afghanistan or ISIS in general seeks to relocate fighters and leaders to Afghanistan as well. There’s the question of the role that neighbors play who also have a concern about spillover from Afghanistan.

“So all of that, to be honest, means that there is a significant risk once the U.S. military and the coalition militaries withdraw. But we will work very hard at CIA and with all of our partners to try to provide the kind of strategic warning to others in the U.S. government that enables them and us to address that threat if it starts to materialize. But–[gestures to DNI Haines].

DNI Avril Haines: “No, Senator, I think I fully agree with Director Burns’ analysis, and that is the intelligence community’s perspective on this issue.”

Sen. Collins: “Thank you.”