Congressman Adam Kinzinger today returned from a week-long Congressional Delegation trip to the Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Afghanistan. Kinzinger was joined on the bipartisan delegation trip by Reps. Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sean Duffy (R-WI), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), and Jon Runyan (R-NJ).
"Over the last few days, I spent time with our men and women who are fighting for the freedom of Afghanistan, and ultimately the security of our nation," said Kinzinger, a pilot in the Air National Guard with tours in the Middle East. "Given the difficulties we face, I was impressed with the courage of our soldiers. I remain committed to protecting democracy, and fighting for a free and secure Afghanistan."
"I am pleased to have been able to organize this group to travel to Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Afghanistan," Shuster said. "As the Chairman of the House Caucuses on Azerbaijan and Georgia, I have long been an advocate for closer relationship between our nations, and this was a great opportunity to introduce many of my new colleagues on this delegation to our critical strategic allies in Azerbaijan and Georgia for the first time."
"It was an honor to help in bringing these Members to visit our friends in the Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Afghanistan," Murphy said. "Having an opportunity to build bridges with these countries is critical for our national defense, as well as for economic opportunities now and in the future."
The delegation began their trip abroad in Prague where the group met with members of the Czech government and discussed bilateral defense policy. The delegation then moved on to Baku, the capitol of Azerbaijan, which is a strategic American ally that sits between Russia and Iran. The group met with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, and discussed regional security as well as ways to strengthen democratic institutions in the country.
The congressional delegation then traveled to Afghanistan where they met with top level military and civilian commanders including General David Petraeus and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry to discuss the security situation and strategy for our ongoing counterinsurgency efforts against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Of special interest to the delegation was a first hand look into village stability operations, which are performed by Coalition Special Operations forces and make-up the central strategic priorities of General Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy.
"It is important that we have the opportunity to meet with military and civilian commanders as well as our soldiers that put strategy into action," Shuster said. "We are entering spring offensive when the fighting in Afghanistan is most intense. We cannot lose sight of how critical our mission in Afghanistan is to our security and we must make sure our commanders have the flexibility to do their jobs and our soldiers the equipment and training necessary to do theirs."
"I have always believed that policy-makers need to listen to the people on the ground who make the tough calls every day to implement national policy," Murphy said. "Visiting with our troops, diplomats and NGO workers in Afghanistan was helpful to me in learning the challenges they face as individuals and the benefits and costs of our continued engagement in the region. This visit will inform all of our work as we contemplate the difficult next steps."
"There is nothing quite as humbling as getting to visit with our nation's finest young men and women who are serving on the front lines in harm's way," said Rep. Sean Duffy. "It was a sobering honor, in particular, to attend a memorial service for the eight Americans killed at Kabul airport last week as well as a ceremony honoring a Wisconsin native killed in action. Their service and sacrifice represent the very best of American honor and valor."
"At the end of our diplomatic and military mission I learned that Osama bin Laden had been killed. This historic moment in the world's repudiation of terrorism underscores the need for Congressional delegation missions such as this one. I am grateful to Congressmen Murphy and Shuster for inviting me to attend," said Rep. Richmond, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. "Developing closer diplomatic relations with Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Afghanistan is important and I was proud to play a part. Gaining greater insight from our folks on the ground is critically important as we deliberate our next steps in Afghanistan. Also, speaking with our troops, including the brave men and women from Louisiana, to let them know that they have our full support is critical."
"It was an honor to meet with our troops in the field. They and their families suspend their lives and time to answer the call of our nation and sacrifice themselves for those the world over. There aren't enough words of appreciation for what they do," said Rep. John Runyan. "As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and as the elected official who represents the premier military facility in my state - Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst -- this trip on the ground was both invaluable and informative to better understand the needs of our personnel and the progress achieved as well as efforts that require additional attention."
The delegation's last stop was the Republic of Georgia, another key American ally and aspiring-NATO member in the region of the Caucuses. The group visited Georgia's border with Russia, the site of continued dispute between the two nations and met with Georgian President Mikheil Saakasvili.