Visiting American Troops in the Middle
Belated Thanksgiving greetings from Kabul! I just returned from an incredible six day Congressional delegation trip to Dubai, Afghanistan and Kuwait with some of my colleagues from the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
I was joined on the bipartisan trip by Representatives Mike Coffman (CO-6), Phil Roe (TN-1), Ralph Abraham (LA-5), Beto O’Rourke (TX-16), and Mark Takano (CA-41).
We visited with the troops serving at Bagram Airfield, Kandahar Airfield, Camp Integrity, and Camp Resolute Support – including soldiers and airmen from New Hampshire – and had three Thanksgiving dinners in 24 hours! Our Naval pilot, Mike Ferns, even grew up in Concord! I also met in Kuwait with Deputy Chief of Mission Joey Hood, a Dartmouth graduate from Keene. He offered extensive briefings about the war in Syria and Iraq, as well as the latest skirmishes with ISIL.
Most of our trip was dedicated to extensive, detailed briefings from top officials with the military, State Department, and intelligence services on every aspect of the transition to an Afghan-led effort with NATO and US forces taking on a supporting role. From the surge of 100,000 American troops, we are now down to 9,800 mostly serving in a "train, advise and assist" role with the Afghan National Security Forces. The greatest security threats are from the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and now ISIL, and attacks come mostly from the tribal areas in northern Pakistan.
We had a fascinating meeting with Afghanistan’s new democratically-elected President Ashraf Ghani, a former professor at Columbia and Johns Hopkins, and members of his Cabinet, which includes three women. President Ghani is working hard to reduce corruption and re-build the economy, but with 92% illiteracy, challenges abound.
President Obama’s current plan is to reduce American troops to 5,500 by 2017, primarily to protect our Embassy personnel who are working on development, and to staff a regional counterterrorism base for the South Asian region. I expect the U.S. will have a presence in Afghanistan for years to come, but with help from the international community, the tenacity of Afghan leaders and some good luck, the Afghan people can hope for peace and greater prosperity in the future.
The photos cover our travels, mostly by Chinook helicopter and military transport. We had lots of security and wore protective gear and helmets for all the travel.
It's a long way from home, but our brave men and women in uniform were all up to the challenge of keeping the world safe for democracy. It's was an honor to spend the holiday with them.