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Recently I was privileged to once again be a part of a congressional delegation to Iraq and Afghanistan to see firsthand the effort being made in the war on terrorism, to meet with members of the U.S. Armed Services serving in that troubled part of the world, and to ask tough questions of our military and civilian leaders about the progress being made. I returned with an even greater appreciation for the job they are doing and with optimism about our prospects for success and our ability to bring more troops home soon.
We spent two days in Baghdad, Iraq, where we had meetings with U.S. and Iraqi leaders regarding the current situation in Iraq, including Ambassador Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, and General David Petraeus, Commander of the Multi-National force in Iraq. While the situation in Iraq is still serious, considerable progress is being made there. The number of daily attacks in the country is at its lowest point in several years and the number of American casualties has also decreased in the past several months, as the Iraqi military is taking more responsibility for security within their own country. Currently, there are more than 560,000 trained Iraqi military and national police serving throughout Iraq. They have taken three times as many causalities as Americans have in recent months, evidencing their stepped-up responsibility. During a meeting with Lieutenant General James Dubik, who is responsible for building the Iraqi security forces, he reported that Iraq’s military and police will be fully manned and operational as early as April 2009. This is important progress that should enable further U.S. troop reductions from Iraq.
Our next stop was Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, where we met with U.S. military officials and troops. Since the defeat of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan has held free and fair elections for the presidency and parliament. This is progress for a country that was governed by terrorists and extremists and has experienced so much violence in recent years. And yet while the Taliban has been unable to maintain a strong presence in Afghanistan, it has not been eliminated but rather has found a new base of operations in the mountainous provinces of western Pakistan where it launches numerous attacks into Afghanistan. The U.S. military still has a major challenge in eliminating the Taliban threat including gaining the cooperation of the Pakistani government and military.
During our visit to both Iraq and Afghanistan I was privileged to meet with troops from all across our nation, including many from the Commonwealth of Virginia. I cannot say enough about the tremendous job being done by these brave men and women of our armed forces. The incredible dedication and professionalism of our troops, from privates to generals, remains one of the constants throughout my multiple visits to the Middle East. They work hard day in and day out to preserve our security and promote peace. Their morale is high and they are doing an outstanding job combating terrorism, far from the comforts of home. We can all take pride in their service.