My Trip to Afghanistan
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the honor of making my third trip to Afghanistan since I’ve been in Congress. I, along with a bipartisan delegation of five other members who serve on the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees, made the trip to visit with soldiers for Thanksgiving and to receive updates on security, political transitions and counter-terrorism efforts. I was especially pleased to have the opportunity to meet with a group of soldiers from Tennessee. These brave men and women put themselves in harm’s way every day, and I am so proud of their service and the work they are doing around the world.
The delegation visited with the president of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, who was elected last year, and also met with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Michael McKinley, who gave us an update on the current situation and mission in Afghanistan. Currently, there are about 9,800 American troops serving in Afghanistan. As you may know, President Obama has been consistently drawing down our forces in Afghanistan for several years now in order to meet his campaign pledge to remove American troops from the country by the end of his presidency. Earlier this year, however, the president changed course and decided to keep 5,500 troops in Afghanistan until 2017 because of deteriorating security conditions.
Having been in Afghanistan three times, I noticed a huge difference in the level of security and stability on the ground since my last visit, before President Obama began removing troops from the region. For example, our delegation was flown from visit to visit as the number of car bombs and attacks have increased in recent months. The day we left, an Afghani election official, Awal Rehman Rodwal, was targeted by a suicide bomber. He survived the attack, but two of his staffers were killed and others were wounded. Additionally, on Monday after we returned to the United States, our embassy in Kabul warned of an imminent attack, cautioning Americans against moving around the city and asking them to consider leaving Afghanistan if possible.
I have serious concerns that further removing American troops from Afghanistan would cause chaos to erupt in the country. To me, it’s clear the Taliban is emboldened by the promise of U.S. withdrawal from the country, and I fear that – despite the Afghan military and government’s desire for peace – the Taliban and other insurgent groups and terrorist organizations will see the country as too weak to carry on the mission without the assistance of the United States.
Our military is the best in the world, and they’re doing a great job and working hard to train the Afghan army. I believe that, with our assistance, Afghanistan can move toward a more peaceful governing process, but the fight is not over. This is a war we can win, but not if we walk away too soon. I want to bring our troops home as soon as possible and minimize the loss of U.S. life and treasure, but we’ve committed to helping Afghanistan’s government and military, and we’ve not yet fulfilled that commitment. While I fully believe leaving Afghanistan safe, secure and independent is possible, with the growing threat around the world, I also believe it will take years to achieve the kind of stability needed in the region for the U.S. to fully withdraw.
I cannot say enough to express my gratitude for the warm welcome we received from our military. From high-ranking commanders to soldiers and diplomatic and support staff, we were greeted and given excellent, objective information and briefings about the situation on the ground. Every single person we spoke with was professional, informed and passionate about the work they are doing in Afghanistan. It was truly an honor to spend Thanksgiving visiting with some of our bravest and best Americans. I thank my colleagues in the House accompanying me to Afghanistan and the Army Liaison’s office for making the trip possible.Feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.