Delegation, including U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, meets with Karzi
Afghan leaders told a congressional delegation a premature withdrawal of U.S. troops would leave the country with a government that would fall to terrorist fighters.
U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, is one of eight members of the delegation that met with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and some Illinois troops Monday in Kabul. They discussed government corruption, ground strategies and President Obama’s recent decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops and begin withdrawing U.S. forces in 18 months.
Schock has criticized Obama’s decision to set a withdrawal date, but he has supported his decision to send the additional troops, which will boost the total number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 100,000.
“In the next year and a half (Gen. McChrystal) believes it will become clear we’re heading in the right direction, we’re winning this war and that the surge was the right thing to do,” Schock said Monday during a conference call with reporters.
McChrystal discussed the importance of providing ongoing security for the Afghan people and villages and humanitarian efforts through non-governmental organizations. A separate strategy will be implemented to thwart the estimated 15,000 to 30,000 Taliban, Schock said.
There currently are 130,000 members of the Afghan National Army — who are “very well-respected among our military, much more so than Afghan police” — with plans to expand to more than 200,000 in the next year, Schock said he was told.
“This is a critical component of us being successful here and to the eventual drawdown of troops — the ability of Afghan people to self-govern, self-rule and self-defend,” Schock said.
Schock joins other Republicans in supporting Democrat Obama’s decision to send more troops, calling it a necessary step to defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida. It will cost an estimated $30 billion.
President Karzai told the delegation that publicly announcing an 18-month deadline to begin withdrawing troops was not a smart move, because it will only allow the Taliban to “hibernate,” Schock said.
Success in Afghanistan hinges on having a “reliable partner and trustworthy government,” Schock said, referring to the government corruption that has long plagued Afghanistan and undermined U.S. support.
Karzai believes corruption allegations are a U.S. perception, not reality, Schock said.
“He is very charismatic. He is very passionate about what he believes, and it’s obvious why he has been elected to lead the country. That being said, the best way to describe our feelings among the eight members when we left our meeting was a sense of optimism, but also frustration,” Schock said.
McChrystal shared frustration with the Afghan government but believes the president is making strides in building a better coalition government, Schock said.
Schock visited the Afghan parliament, which didn’t exist until a few years ago, and said progress was visible. This is the first freely elected parliament in more than three decades. “It spoke volumes in terms of the progress that’s been made in the last several years in terms of moving more towards the Democratic process and working out their differences in a non-violent way.”
He described the country itself as antiquated.
“It struck me by how poor it is, how desolate the main capital looks. It is definitely Third World,” Schock said.
“I was a bit surprised for all of the money that we’re spending in Afghanistan that the capital was not better brought up to the 20th century. No sidewalks, drainage systems, anything that would represent any bit of what you would expect in a modern day city in the West. (I’m a) bit disappointed it's not more developed than what it is.”
Tuesday the delegation is meeting with troops at a forward operating base.
Karen McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.