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Rodney's Report From Afghanistan: Progress Evident

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In the first week of September, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen traveled to Afghanistan with colleagues of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Frelinghuysen met with troops, key leaders in the military, political and intelligence communities, and reviewed unit readiness, rotation of forces, equipment and logistical support, and ongoing operations in the theater.

While "in country", he traveled to Kabul, Bagram and the important Panjshir Valley.

For your information, here is his report:

Observing Progress in Afghanistan

"Much has happened in Afghanistan since my last visit in November of 2009.

"President Obama has increased the number of U.S. troops on the ground from 60,000 to over 100,000 with a corresponding increase in American civilian workforce from 250 to 1,300.

"While his decision to increase or "surge' troop strength was controversial, I believe it was the proper course. People may question our goal to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda' and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but that goal is the right one, however unpopular.

"I went to Afghanistan to talk with our military and civilian leaders firsthand, gauge our progress and most importantly, meet with our soldiers, Marines, sailors, Air Force personnel and deployed civilians to measure their morale and listen to their views of progress so far under the President's new strategy.

"There exists a civilian and military "unity of effort' that I did not see on my last trip. All around the country, there are all sorts of military commands paired with civilian teams at the highest echelons and down at the local level -- Provincial Reconstruction Teams and District Support Teams.

"The size of Texas, Afghanistan is hugely mountainous and inhospitable. It has one of the lowest per capita incomes ($656) and highest poverty rates (122 out of 128 nations) in the world.

"Unfortunately, corruption is rampant. Their "rule of law' is very weak. Illiteracy is very high. The infrastructure --roads, bridges, etc -- is poor. (The considerable improvements that have been made are due to the efforts of our Army Corps of Engineers!)

"Much of our focus is to strengthen the hand of the Afghan government and security forces -- Army and police -- so that they can take responsibility for their own future and, frankly, speed our departure.

"I sensed a much higher level of optimism this time around, in stark contrast to my November visit. Contrary to what the U.S. media portrays, the government of Hamid Karzai, our troops and international forces are making progress in rooting out the Taliban, the prime insurgent group that seeks to reestablish an Islamic state anchored in Sharia law, terror and barbarism.

"I was impressed at how diverse resources and organizations, ranging from our Special Forces, the Department of State, USAID, the DEA, the FBI and many non-governmental agencies, are working together.

"President Obama's "surge' has made a difference. And whatever our feelings, media reports and the like, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the volunteers for these assignments, both military and civilian. Many are in remote areas, sustained by an impressive support system and resources brought into the country in vast overland convoys.

"A major concern continues to be the impact of civilian deaths. Of course, any loss of life is tragic and in war, mistakes occur.

"But the Taliban have developed an incredible capability to instantaneously transmit horrific scenes and disinformation. It is a fact of this modern battlefield that the Taliban and other insurgent groups routinely beat us to the headlines via the internet and electronic communication not used in previous conflicts. Indeed, they are experts at using the "rumor mill.' As a result, their disinformation is everywhere and has real impact at home and abroad.

"General David Petraeus has designed his "counterinsurgency guidelines' for our troops to "turn our enemy's extremist ideologies, repressive practices and indiscriminate, brutal violence against them.' He intends to hang their barbaric actions "around their necks like millstones.'

"As a consequence, our troops are taking extraordinary steps to minimize civilian casualties. Yes, at times they endanger themselves, and I have urged military leaders to work to strike a proper balance between protecting civilians and providing our troops appropriate "rules of engagement' to defend themselves.

"Of course, the highlight of each trip is the opportunity to visit with the troops, especially those from New Jersey. I met the best of America.

"For example, I met in Kabul with two Air Force captains from Lawrenceville. Both are young. One is female. The young man's father lives in Denville.

"At Bagram Air Base, a former Soviet installation which is now home to the legendary 101st Airborne, I shared lunch with New Jersey's finest. One was a retired career officer now volunteering as a civilian and another soldier from south of Trenton. All were reservists. One soldier was a member of the Morris Plains VFW Post 3401 and has served our nation for more than twenty years.

"These meetings are bittersweet. Of course, I admire their service and appreciate the burden their families face every day. On the other hand, you wish you could pack them up and bring them home to their family and friends.

"This was my fourth trip to Afghanistan. And unlike last November to Kabul, EVERYONE I spoke with had a sense of optimism and greater focus. Gone were artificial lines between the military and civilian missions.

"Understandably, many here at home are wishing for a quick departure, or in some cases, more drastic military action, I think we have made some tremendous strides and some progress.

"But abandoning Afghanistan in haste, without crushing al Qaeda and their extremist, oppressive partners in the region is a recipe for a long-term disaster for America.

"On the eve of the ninth anniversary of September 11, 2001, we would be wise to remember that the Taliban hosted and partnered with al Qaeda terrorists who murdered thousands of innocent people.

"However, there is real danger in all the loose talk about a premature withdrawal. There is evidence that Taliban is rallying its forces by telling them that they can just "wait us out.'

"Clearly, no one wants our brave warfighters to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely. But a firm deadline for complete withdrawal would jeopardize the gains I sensed, both military and humanitarian.

"My best advice to President Obama: listen to Secretary of Defense Gates, stop all the talk about bailing out of this important mission and make sure General Petraeus has all the troops, funding and resources he needs to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan, a critical site in an incredibly dangerous region of the globe."


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