By NBC's Andrew Rafferty
Aides to Herman Cain are pointing to a Libyan military commander with ties to the Taliban to vindicate the candidate’s suggestion yesterday that the former militant ruling party of Afghanistan is playing a role in the formation of Libya’s new government.
Cain spokesman JD Gordon cites Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, Libya’s Islamist military commander who fought with the Afghan Taliban, as proof that Cain’s remarks were accurate. Gordon, a former spokesman for the Department of Defense, said he knows Belhaj has taken an “oath of loyalty” to Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
In Orlando on Friday, Cain rhetorically asked reporters at a press conference, “Do I agree with siding with the opposition? Do I agree with saying that Ghaddafy should go? Do I agree that they now have a country where you've got Taliban and Al Qaeda that's going to be part of the government?”
The comment came after the former Georgia businessman faced another question about a mangled answer he gave to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board when asked if he agreed with how President Barack Obama handled Libya. Cain took an extended pause before beginning to answer, and at one point needed to start over.
His suggestion that the Taliban, now dispersed through Afghanistan and Pakistan, is playing a role in forming the new Libyan government was quickly picked up by media as another example of a foreign policy gaffe.
"He’s not suggesting the Taliban is running Libya, he's just saying we did not do a good enough job vetting who the opposition is,” Gordon told NBC News.
Gordon cited several news agencies having to update or correct initial stories after too abruptly reporting Cain had made another gaffe.
“You guys oughtta do your homework,” Gordon said when asked for his reaction to media coverage of the candidate’s remarks. “It's interesting that he knows more than the media in this case."
But it is Al Qaeda, not the Taliban, that U.S. officials most frequently cite as a concern for the role they may play as Libya forms a new government in the wake of Moammar Gadhafi’s death.
Cain’s comments to the editorial board followed a foreign policy debate where he faced criticism for a lack of specificity in his answers, often saying he would rely on the foreign policy advisers around him to make decisions.