Republican Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during a town hall event at Bob Jones University, Nov. 13, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. 
Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP

Carson: al Qaeda was not a threat in 2003

Dr. Ben Carson told supporters Sunday that he supports increased military involvement in Syria because ISIS is an existential threat to the United States, adding that al Qaeda — the group behind the 2001 September 11th attacks— was not.

“A lot of Americans really think back to 2003, and they remember Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda,” Carson explained at a Nevada rally. “They say, ‘we never should have gone in there and destabilized it.’ And they may be right about that.”

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“But here’s the problem, Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda at that time was not an existential threat to us. The global jihad movement is an existential threat. They want to destroy us and everything that has to do with us,” Carson concluded after criticizing President Obama for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Al Qaeda and it’s leader Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9-11, the deadliest attacks on American soil.

The leading republican candidate Sunday afternoon, spent several minutes on foreign policy — a subject where his answers to question regularly faces criticism and scrutiny. After pausing to lead a moment of silence “to remember all those who died in France,” Carson stayed on the issue.

“You know our oldest ally in this country is France, and we stand in solidarity with our allies,” Carson said. “It’s something that we must learn how to do once again and that is to support our friends around the world. You know, we turn our back on Israel, we turn our back on the Ukraine,” he added.

On ISIS, Carson said the “global jihad movement,” gives Americans just two choices. “We can sit around and act like they are the jayvee, and that they aren’t going to do anything and that they’re only significant over there. Or we can use every resource available to us to destroy them first.”

“I would go with the latter,” he added.

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When his speech moved to building on military successes again ISIS, Carson said he believes that as the coalition countries begin to win, people in the region will be deterred from joining the “jihadist movement.”

“And that’s the way to do it, you have to fight both the psychological and the physical war,” Carson explained in defeating the group.

Foreign policy experience has been a weakness for Carson in polling, although he is leading the field nationally. When asked by reporters after his rally, how he would respond to voters concerned about his lack of foreign policy experience, the former neurosurgeon said it’s about the people who will advise him, quoting Proverbs 11:14 from the bible which reads, “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”

“The fact of the matter is, no one has the kind of experience that is ideal to become president of the United States. That’s one of the reasons it’s important to know how to surround yourself with the right kinds of people.”

Saying he receives daily briefings from people including military generals, Carson did not refuse to connect President Obama to the terrorist attacks in France, nor did he criticize the president when asked if he underestimated ISIS.

Instead, he suggested it was an intelligence failure.

“I don’t like to be super critical but obviously we can see that ISIS has quite a bit more strength than perhaps he thought,” Carson said before adding, “and that would probably be a matter of him not getting very good intelligence.”

Asked specifically if he was blaming the entire intelligence community for underestimating ISIS, Carson didn’t back down, saying “he obviously is not getting the information.”

This article first appeared on NBCNews.com

Ben Carson, Election 2016 and Foreign Policy

Carson: al Qaeda was not a threat in 2003