January 12, 2010

Crapo Visits Afghanistan, Pakistan

Says soldiers' morale is high but announcing timetable for withdrawal a concern

Washington, D.C. - During a Congressional visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past four days, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo found U.S. soldiers in high spirits but foreign leaders left with questions over announcing public timetables for U.S. withdrawal from the area and making sure the Taliban and al Qaeda are defeated. Crapo was a member of a Congressional delegation tour to gain a better understanding on how the war against the Taliban was progressing in the Mideast. He was accompanied on the trip by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), and Representative Michael Castle (R-Delaware).

As they visited with soldiers, commanders, local business and political leaders in both countries, Crapo said several things stood out about the state of the conflict: Afghan and Pakistani leadership is concerned over publicly releasing a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal that could aid the enemy.

"I was very impressed with the quality of the American personnel on the ground, not just with our troops but also those who are running and managing all aspects of our actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan and our NATO allies in the conflict," Crapo said during a news conference today on Capitol Hill. "General Stanley McChrystal and his team on the ground are doing a great job."

Crapo re-emphasized his opposition to a long U.S. occupation but noted the enemy should not be given any timetables. "A number of senior Taliban officials have moved across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan. We need Pakistan's assistance to clear them out and to stop their operations.

"As our troops clear an area, the process of holding and building the area back involves winning the confidence and trust of the people in that region," Crapo added. "Talk of pre-determined troop actions by the U.S. or NATO creates difficult decisions by our partners to change their allegiances or to maintain the structure and the control that is established by our troops."

Crapo noted that while U.S. soldiers were being very successful in pushing the Taliban and al Qaeda out of several areas, questions remain as to how to deal with detainees in the conflict because of the decision to grant detainees criminal rights in the U.S. McConnell noted that In some cases generals needed to consult with attorneys over the treatment of detainees and that had created "operational confusion."

"It was very clear that there was uncertainty among our military personnel as to exactly how they are required now, and going to be required in the future, to deal with the handling of detainees," Crapo said.

Crapo met near the front lines in Afghanistan with Marine Lance Corporal Philip A. Clifton, Jr. Clifton's parents reside in Pocatello. Crapo met with other Idaho soldiers during a stopover in England. The Congressional delegation also met with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Ali Asif Zardari during stops that included Kabul, Islamabad, the battlefront in southern Afghanistan, Kuwait City and military bases in Ireland and England.