By LARRY BIVINS * Press-Gazette
Continuing to pay for the war in Afghanistan could erode the quality of life for American taxpayers, Rep. Steve Kagen cautioned Monday after a five-day overseas trip that included a stay in the mountainous country that has been a haven for 9/11 terrorists.
Speaking about the trip in a conference call with reporters, Kagen, D-Appleton, said that while he continues to support the troops fighting in Afghanistan, he would have a hard time approving additional spending to prop up what he called a corrupt Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai.
Kagen said that poverty and corruption run too deep in Afghanistan and that it would be better for the U.S. to cut its losses and use the money being spent on the war to build schools in America.
"We didn't destroy Afghanistan," Kagen said. "Why should American taxpayers be responsible for rebuilding it? We've done everything we can do to help the people in Afghanistan form a legitimate government."
When asked, Kagen said, his constituents reply, "You should be investing our tax dollars at home, rebuilding our own country, not someone else's."
Kagen, who has been critical of U.S. war policy, was among six members of Congress -- the others were Reps. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison; Joe Barton, R-Texas; Andre Carson, D-Ind.; Ron Klein, D-Fla.; and Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y. -- who left Aug. 2 and returned Saturday. The five-day trip included stops in Germany, Israel and Turkey.
Kagen said 40 percent of the money sent to Afghanistan has been stolen and some of it "may be going to insurgents." The country is mired "in biblical times," he said.
The trip marked the first congressional delegation visit to Afghanistan since Gen. David Petraeus assumed command of U.S. forces in June. The trip came just days after President Barack Obama signed a $59 billion bill to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with $33.5 billion targeted toward the 30,000 "surge" troops Obama added to the ground forces in Afghanistan.
While in Afghanistan, Kagen said, he visited the Bagram Army and Air Force base and met with Petraeus and other military leaders, members of the Afghanistan Parliament and other civilian leaders. He said he also met with wounded soldiers in Afghanistan and at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
"We have to compliment our soldiers for their professionalism ... the way they perform their duties," Kagen said, adding that the same praise should be given to U.S. medical personnel.
But in the end, Kagen said, the U.S. is engaged in a no-win conflict. While U.S. troops have effectively scuttled al-Qaida, he said, the effort to stabilize the Afghan government likely will be in vain.
"We'll never be able to plant the flag and say, 'This is what victory looks like,'" Kagen said.
Baldwin said she, too, believes that the U.S. has accomplished its main purpose for being in Afghanistan and that it's time to withdraw the troops.
"After 9/11, I voted to authorize force to hunt down those who carried out and planned the attacks on our country," Baldwin said. "Those perpetrators, al-Qaida, and others like them, who pose the greatest threat to the U.S., no longer operate out of Afghanistan. That is why I now seek responsible redeployment of our troops."