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Tribune - Donnelly Returns from Mideast

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Tribune - Donnelly Returns from Mideast

Expect to see more U.S. forces sent to Afghanistan and further troop withdrawals from Iraq in the months ahead, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly said Tuesday.

Donnelly, D-Granger, returned Tuesday from an unannounced trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and the country of Georgia.

The trip also was to include a stop in Pakistan, but a terrorist attack there caused the congressional delegation to cancel that leg of the trip, traveling instead to Kuwait, Donnelly said.

Donnelly talked to The Tribune about the trip via telephone from Dulles International Airport just outside Washington, D.C.

Iraq: ‘Fragile progress'

A lot of progress has been made in Iraq since Donnelly's trip there in December, he said.

The two days in Iraq included meetings with military leaders, including Army Gen. David Petraeus.

Not only are operations being handed over to the Iraqis, but the training, too, Donnelly said.

"It's in effect becoming a complete Iraqi operation, where we are going more into the background all the time," he said. "I expect we will have further troop withdrawals before this year is out."

The trip also took the congressional delegation to Anbar province, a large area that encompasses most of western Iraq, with a stop in the city of Fallujah.

There, they met with the mayor, police chief and sheik of Fallujah. The sheik is the head of the city council.

"The two people who held the office before him were both murdered," Donnelly said.

Donnelly said U.S. officials on the trip told Iraqi leaders it's time for Iraq to start paying for its own reconstruction. The nation has a $79 billion budget surplus, with an additional $35 billion expected next year, Donnelly said.

"The hardworking families of South Bend and Kokomo and Elkhart shouldn't be paying that," he said. "We're working on our own budget deficit."

And Donnelly praised the troops in Iraq for their work, "who not only fought the war but have been asked to be mayors, teachers, engineers, playground pals and in effect are not only soldiers but sociologists," he said.

The trip also stopped in Kuwait, where Iraq logistics are coordinated.

"If a Humvee from AM General is going to Iraq, it goes to Kuwait first," he said.

Afghanistan: Help needed

In Afghanistan, the delegation traveled to Kabul, Kandahar and Helmand province in the south, where the country shares a border with Pakistan.

"This place will blow your mind," he said. "We were all the way out in some of the forward bases, and it is a tough, hard struggle we have ahead of us."

In Helmand province, Taliban from Pakistan are pouring into the country, he said.

"They come right up the road there in that particular province," he said.

There are some areas where Afghan, NATO or U.S. troops haven't had a presence in three or four years, he said.

"We don't have enough troops in Afghanistan," Donnelly said. "It was said to me that we can in effect battle it out to a stalemate, but we don't have enough to get over the top."

Another three brigades will likely be heading there soon, which means up to 15,000 additional troops, Donnelly said. The ultimate goal over the next two years is to double the size of the Afghan army from 60,000 to 120,000 people.

Georgia: Showing support

The delegation had dinner with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili Monday night and discussed the recent Russian incursion into that Eastern European nation.

"You have a country that's been attacked," Donnelly said. "In a country of approximately 4.6 million people, what Russia is trying to do is to undermine the economy. An economic collapse, they're hoping, will also cause the government to collapse."

After meeting with the country's finance minister, the U.S. delegation gave statements to Georgian television news reporters.


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