Congressman spends two days meeting with military, Afghan officials
WASHINGTON, D.C– Congressman Scott Murphy (D-20th) returned last week from a two-day visit to Afghanistan, stressing repeatedly in remarks to the press that the United States and NATO forces now have a “clear plan” for defeating al Qaeda and bringing some measure of peace and stability to that country.
Mr. Murphy spoke with reporters from his district by phone last Friday, February 19, the day after he returned to Washington from Afghanistan. He had made stops in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and in Kandahar, the country’s second largest city and once the headquarters of the Taliban. He said he had met with U.S. military personnel, including troops from his district, and with General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, as well as other U.S. and Afghan officials.
Sounding enthusiastic about what he said was the “wonderful work” of U.S. forces, he also acknowledged that the military and diplomatic initiative that began with the U.S. invasion of the country in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., presented a “complex problem,” not least because the problem also involves Pakistan and Iran, which have borders with Afghanistan, and India, which has a tense border with Pakistan. And he said the people he spoke to in Afghanistan had convinced him that the U.S. and Afghan forces would “not win this by killing people.”
Mr. Murphy, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, made the trip as part of a congressional delegation, saying he believed that he had a responsibility to see for himself the conditions on the ground. He said he was impressed by the effectiveness of the training conducted by U.S. MPs for Afghan police. He also said that the surge in U.S. troops into the country now under way had been accompanied by a buildup of civilian advisors and technicians. He said he had learned about health clinics being built and about efforts to teach farmers to engage in “value-added agriculture” and not the cultivation of opium poppies in a country where 85% of the economy is based on agriculture. There are millions more children in schools these days, he said, and unlike when the Taliban controlled the country until late 2001 and there were no girls in schools, today 35% of students are girls.
“Afghans are excited about where they’re going,” said Mr. Murphy.
But he conceded that the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai does not control all of the country. Nor are the problems the country faces only the legacy of the Taliban and its repressive ideology based on fundamentalist Muslim theology. U.S. troops and their Afghan and international allies face a threat from the land mines left behind from the invasion of the country 30 years ago by the Soviet Union.
Asked what he had learned about rumored negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban, Mr. Murphy said he could not comment on that subject. Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy to the region and one of the people who met with Mr. Murphy’s delegation, said late last week that the U.S. is not negotiating with the Taliban.
Military personnel told Mr. Murphy, “Over the last eight years, we didn’t have enough resources to get the job done” so that the U.S. could hand over control of the country to Afghan security forces and civilian officials. “Now we have the resources and a clear mission,” he said.
But despite his emphasis on the plan in place since President Obama announced his strategy last fall for a major increase in troop strength, Mr. Murphy stopped short of an outright prediction of success. Asked for his response to critics of the U.S. policy who say that the resources spent on the war in Afghanistan could be better spent at home, the congressman said, “We do have limited resources and we have to use them effectively.” He said he was worried that without the new military effort the Taliban and al Qaeda would find safe haven in Afghanistan, but he said he was concerned about the cost of the war.
Mr. Murphy said that the U.S. has a chance right now “of creating a reasonably successful… government” in Afghanistan that would permit American troops to withdraw within the 18-month timetable outlined by the president. He said it was a “balancing act,” because the U.S. wants to build that Afghan government in a manner that avoids “getting ourselves in a sinkhole.”