Sestak calls on Obama to assess war on al-Qaida as 9th anniversary of Afghan war approaches

By Marc Levy, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

Sestak calls on Obama to assess war on al-Qaida

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania’s Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, called on President Barack Obama to put forth a clear measuring stick for military progress against al-Qaida on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and sparred with his Republican counterpart on policy toward Iran.

Sestak, a former Navy admiral, spoke three days shy of the ninth anniversary of America’s attack on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. He is running against Republican Pat Toomey.

“We need to make sure our troops have a clear, narrowly defined mission, and that is to neutralize the threat of al-Qaida and eliminate their safe havens in the border region of Pakistan,” Sestak said in remarks to several dozen people in the rotunda of Pennsylvania’s Capitol building.

If the Pakistani government collapses, Sestak warned, the Taliban and al-Qaida could seize its nuclear weapons.

Sestak last year supported Obama’s order to send more troops to Afghanistan, saying it was a crucial step to cut off al-Qaida from Pakistani safe havens. But, he said, the Obama administration hasn’t provided any useful assessment of its efforts against al-Qaida in Pakistan and he warned against an open-ended commitment.

“Do we have the enemy being set back? Are we impeding their ability to operate?” he said. “And, if not, what can we do to be more effective? Or can’t we be under this strategy? We can’t know unless we measure it.”

Sestak’s speech also helped him highlight his experience in national security: He was asked to create the Navy’s anti-terrorism unit after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and he commanded an aircraft battle group in support of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

Sestak left the Navy in January 2006 and is now a second-term congressman from the Philadelphia suburbs. Toomey is a former congressman from the Allentown area.

Last week, Toomey attacked the Obama administration and Sestak as too soft on another of American’s nuclear worries, Iran.

“From very early on, I have argued for the most stringent possible economic sanctions in the hope that imposing them would dissuade this regime from pursuing these very dangerous weapons,” Toomey said. “Joe Sestak refused to support that approach. I think this administration was late in coming to the imposition of the most aggressive possible sanctions.”

On Monday, Sestak countered that he voted for a number of economic sanctions on Iran, including its gasoline imports, and he defended Obama’s use of diplomacy.

“In diplomacy, you have carrots and sticks; diplomacy should hurt,” he said. “And that’s why once what the Obama administration tried wasn’t working enough … I voted for the sanctions.”

Sestak has voted for economic sanctions against Iran as far back as 2007 — his first year in Congress under then-President George W. Bush — when Congress urged the addition of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to the U.S. terror list. Toomey, who served from 1999 to 2005, never pushed for such a move, he said.

On Monday, the Toomey campaign could not give examples of economic sanctions that Congress had not passed or that Sestak had not supported.

will not be displayed