Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel jokingly asked an audience member if he belonged to the Taliban on Wednesday during his speech at the University of Nebraska Omaha. Instead of laughter, he was met with a great deal of confusion.
After a reportedly dry speech on policy, Hagel fielded questions from the audience. He pointed to the back of the room and said, "OK, so who has a — way up in the back there. You're not a member of the Taliban are you?”
Unfortunately, the next question was asked by an Indian professor at UNO, Dr. Robin Gandhi.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little explained that Hagel was not addressing Gandhi, and when he made that Taliban "joke," he had no idea who would be selected for the next question.
“Following a question related to the Taliban, the secretary made an off-the-cuff joke before the next questioner was called or selected at an appearance at the University of Nebraska at Omaha,” Little said in a statement on Wednesday. “Absolutely no slight toward any individual in the audience was intended. That's the last thing the secretary would do under any circumstance, in this or any other setting. He didn't know who would be called next to pose a question.”
Gandhi said in a statement that he was certain the secretary was not addressing him when he made the Taliban comment.
“I was honored to attend Secretary of Defense Hagel’s speech on Wednesday,” Gandhi said. “I was able to ask a question, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his answer. Before I rose to ask a question, there was apparently some confusion that did not involve me.”
Gandhi is an assistant professor of information assurance in the School of Interdisciplinary Informatics at UNO’s College of Information Science & Technology. He receive his Ph.D. from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.