A Trip Report From The Middle East And Central Asia

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U.S. Senator Jon Kyl recently led a bipartisan, bicameral congressional delegation visit to Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey. During the trip, which included Senator Jeff Sessions and Representatives Jane Harman, Chris Carney and John Kline, Senator Kyl maintained a log of their activities. The following are excerpts from his log:

Days 1 and 2 — Israel

Israeli leaders are focused laser-like on one issue these days — Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. For them, it’s a threat to the existence of their country. This theme dominated our conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and the leader of Israel’s version of the CIA, the Mossad. Israel is also concerned about Iran’s development of ballistic missiles to carry nuclear weapons. Fortunately, the U.S. and Israel have deployed missile defense systems which could provide some protection in the event of an attack. Some in the U.S. oppose missile defense for (Israel). Israelis are glad they didn’t wait for the threat to materialize before starting work on their defenses.

We also traveled to Jericho to visit retired U.S. Lt. General Keith Dayton and Palestinian commanders of the Presidential Security Forces and National Security Forces. These forces, which have been trained with U.S. help, were instrumental in helping keep control of the West Bank during the recent Israeli operation in Gaza. Security is essential if Palestinians (at least in the West Bank) are to live peacefully with Israel — with security, they can build an economy without the threat that terrorists may gain control as Hamas did in Gaza.

Day 3 — Afghanistan

Congressional visits only get so much time on the ground in this war zone, so they have to make the most of it. We started in the Capitol, Kabul, and met with President Karzai and then Interior Minister Atmar. President Karzai needs and appreciates U.S. support (including 17,000 more U.S. troops) but expressed the concern shared by others: would the U.S. see the effort through to conclusion, or would we leave prematurely (as we almost did in Iraq)?

Minister Atmar, who lost his leg fighting the Soviets, has been instrumental in building the Afghan police force; it’s his job to counter corruption and narcotics production and trafficking. The aid promised by President Obama will give him more help, and that’s important, because the narcotics trade funds terrorism and the Taliban who attack our troops.

In Kandahar (a hotbed of the Taliban), we met with Brigadier General Nicholson, who heads up U.S. Regional Command South, the most violent of the four NATO regions in the country. Most of the new troops headed to Afghanistan will be going to this region.

Our most fascinating meeting was with 13 tribal elders. In Afghan tribal culture, as we saw in Iraq, if these elders make the decision to trust and support the U.S.-led effort, we can be successful. On the other hand, if they think we will prematurely leave, or if they think the Afghan central government can’t be trusted, the U.S. will not succeed regardless of how many troops we send. It is clear that they are frustrated both with the U.S. commitment up to now and with their central government. We tried to make clear that the president’s new plan has support from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and that the U.S. is in this fight until it’s over (just as in Iraq).

Day 4 — Pakistan

We traveled first to Lahore, the cultural center of Pakistan and then to the Capitol, Islamabad. There we met with the President, Asif Ali Zardari, and his defense minister. Zardari lost his wife, Benazir Bhutto, to the country’s terrorists, and his country has lost hundreds of soldiers and police fighting various terrorist groups. Nonetheless, we came away concerned about the endless political power struggles in the country, the lack of a clear consensus on how to defeat the Taliban (which have exerted control over significant parts of Pakistan), and the challenges in training police and army to take on the Taliban. This will require increases in U.S. assistance.

Day 5 — Turkey

Turkey is a vital regional actor which has improved its cooperation with the U.S. in recent months and can be an important counterweight to radical Muslim influence.

Conclusion

Trips like this enable us to state our case to foreign leaders and better equip us to appreciate how to help shape U.S. policy to support our interests and those of our allies.

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