A First Hand View of the Success of our Troops
By Tom Cole
With the War on Terror and our operations in Iraq being fought thousands of miles away and half way across the globe, it is difficult for Americans to get a good image on what is actually happening there. Last month I had the opportunity to see the progress of our troops first hand when I participated in a fact-finding trip to the Middle East.
The purpose of our trip was to gain perspective from foreign leaders regarding the political, economic and military environment in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, but along the way we had the opportunity to meet some of our American heroes and see them in action. This is an opportunity I wish every American had the chance to experience, because seeing the progress made in both Iraq and Afghanistan and hearing the stories from our troops reinforces the necessity of our mission there.
At every stop, I was able to spend time with enlisted men and women from Oklahoma. I've got to tell you there are some rabid OU and OSU fans in Iraq and Afghanistan. These soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen are truly among the finest people in our nation. They tell me their food is good, they're getting the supplies and equipment they need, their living conditions have dramatically improved and their morale seems to be genuinely high. The one thing they miss, and treasure above anything else, is contact with home. They asked for letters, emails, care packages-anything to help keep that bond from home-from family, friends, co-workers and even from people in the community they've never met.
U.S. forces are achieving daily successes in rebuilding Iraq while they help Iraqi troops and police defeat the insurgency. In Iraq, the swift military victory by U.S. forces at the outset of the war, was followed very quickly by a transition toward nation-rebuilding activities by American forces. In a recent Armed Services hearing, Army Colonel Michael Linnington, former brigade commander with the 101st Airborne Division, who served a prolonged tour of duty in Iraq, testified that it was not uncommon for his troops to be building schools by day and patrolling for insurgents at night; or for U.S. troops to be fighting insurgents in one part of a town while helping with elections in another part. The troops believe in their mission and are there to see it through.
While in Iraq, we also met with the Prime Minister of the Interim Iraqi Government, Iyad Allawi. He informed us of the many challenges that were facing the Iraqi people, but he insisted that the Iraqi people want a democracy and will fight for it. He also believes there is wide support for America and their efforts in Iraq. He praised the efforts of our troops and asked America to keep its resolve in helping the Iraqi people. He recognized that the United States had suffered many casualties but reiterated that we are in a global fight for democracy that cannot be lost.
Our next stop was in Islamabad, Pakistan where we met with the Foreign Minister, Mr Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri. Pakistan is fighting al Qaeda because it is in their own best interests. They are good allies, but made it clear that beyond the common cause we share in the War on Terror and other issues, there are many areas where they respectfully disagree with U.S. policy. The delegation's meeting made the front page of one of the Pakistani English language daily newspapers.
After a stop in Pakistan, we traveled to the Afghanistan where the success of our troops was also very evident. Over 10 million people have registered to vote in the upcoming October presidential election in Afghanistan and five million Afghanis are now enrolled in school. There are many civilian-military projects under way and infrastructure reconstruction is beginning to appear. The coalition forces are changing the lives of the Afghanis and giving them opportunities that they never dreamed they could have. In Afghanistan, we met with Interim President Hamid Karzai. He was effusive in his thanks to America and the work of US troops in Afghanistan. In particular, he praised the work of the Oklahoma's 45th Infantry Brigade that has worked so hard to train the Afghan Army. That army is now fighting hard and performing well in the hunt for Al Qaeda and Taliban members.
Toward the end of the trip, we spent the night on the USS John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier conducting combat operations from the Persian Gulf in support of U.S. troops battling Moqtada al Sadr's followers in Najaf, Iraq. It is impressive to see American fighters take off and land at night. It's even more impressive to see our young men and women thrive in such a high-pressure environment. An aircraft carrier flight deck is among the most dangerous places in the military. But the young Oklahomans I met were more than able to meet the challenge.
Even with the danger of serving in these countries, the American forces believe in their mission and are very committed to their cause. As I was visiting with them the question that they asked me again and again was if the American people supported them back home. I answered absolutely, they do. Both the War against Terror and our efforts to establish a free and democratic Iraq will take time, but I believe that our troops are up to the task. We must continue to support them and provide them with the resources they need to be successful.