NEW YORK—During a conference call with reporters while in Afghanistan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he hopes to build the “most sophisticated homeland defense system ever” to protect New York from the terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State.
Cuomo stressed that homeland security was only one-half of a successful terrorism prevention strategy, and that an effective defense system needs to strike at terrorism at its roots abroad.
“You have to get to the Middle East, you have to stop the development of the problem, the answer can’t be ‘we’ll always catch it before it comes in the airport,'” Cuomo said. “We have to be resolving, managing, and controlling the source of the growth of these terrorist cells, because at this rate of growth it’s gonna be very hard to manage.”
Cuomo left for Afghanistan on Friday as part of a Department of Defense-organized delegation that included the governors of Missouri, Tennessee, and Nevada.
The five-day trip, which was unannounced for security reasons, is Cuomo’s second trip abroad since he took office in 2010. The governor previously visited Israel in a 28-hour “unity tour” to show support for Israel as it fought with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The governor’s call for a more hawkish foreign policy to combat terrorism comes less than a week after the U.S. military commenced airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria.
“The president is speaking [about the Islamic State], other countries are speaking to it,” Cuomo said. “New York has a special interest in this subject matter, it’s a topic that they’re obviously thinking through at the same time, but I want to make sure that we stay one step ahead.”
Stop in Germany
Cuomo stopped in Germany for security briefings from Department of Defense officials, and also visited wounded troops at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where he talked to and took pictures with veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“I had a chance to chat with a few young soldiers, they were inspirational,” Cuomo said. “One fellow had a broken leg, screwed legs, all he wanted to talk about was how he wanted to get back to his unit.”
During the conference call, the governor once again had to repudiate insinuations from reporters that the trip to Afghanistan and his visit to the military hospital was him laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign.
“I am doing my job as governor of new york, that’s exactly what this is about,” Cuomo said. “[the soldiers at Landstuhl] were delighted in the conversations that we had, I believe they asked for the pictures.”
Cuomo spent most of his trip at military bases near Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, where he received “classified briefings” from senior officials in the Department of State and the Department of Defense, which he said persuaded him that the threat of terrorism has “metastasized” in the past 13 years.
Homeland security has dominated Cuomo’s agenda in recent weeks. The governor announced with New Jersey governor Chris Christie last Wednesday that security at the transportation hubs in the neighboring states had been beefed up to “unprecedented” levels in response to threats from the Islamic State, which has publicly declared its desire to attack New York.
The new security measures include deploying armed enforcement officers at airports, train stations, and bus stops as well as vehicle inspections and random bag checks during rush hours. But for Cuomo, these measures aren’t enough to insure protection of Americans from another terrorist attack, as long as the Islamic State continues to grow.
“It can’t just be, we’ll have the best intelligence and the best security and we’ll catch every threat, we will not miss one because if you miss one, you could talk about massive damage,” Cuomo said. “You have to say, what’s causing the continued growth of the source of the problem, why has it metastasized, why is it spreading?”
The governor will return to New York on Tuesday.