A ground-level view of American efforts in the war-torn country of Afghanistan offered fresh perspective for Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick last month.
Over the Christmas holiday, Fitzpatrick, a Republican, traveled to the nation to spend time with area soldiers and learn about the situation on the ground from military leaders. He traveled to the region with congressmen David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island; Mike Coffman, a Republican from Colorado; and Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York.
The congressional delegation also made stops to meet with officials in Jordan and Kuwait. They traveled on commercial airlines to the region and then were ferried between various stops in Afghanistan on military C-130 planes and helicopters.
At stops in Jalalabad Airport in Afghanistan and classified locations, the delegation met with troops from their districts and states. Fitzpatrick said the congressmen were able to sit with servicemembers, talk with them and even contact their families back home to give them an update.
The elected officials were not only able to meet with the troops who support military operations in Afghanistan on a day-to-day basis, but they were also able to hear from four-star U.S. Army General John W. Nicholson Jr., who is in control of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission. The mission trains and supports Afghan forces with support from 38 allies and the United States.
Fitzpatrick said military leaders briefed the congressmen on an overview of the economy, the continuing rebuilding of Afghanistan and challenges facing forces on the ground.
America’s longest-running war continues as it moves past its 15 year anniversary. The cost hasn’t just been the $1.07 trillion taxpayers have spent but the even more valuable 2,297 military members and numerous additional American support personnel killed in the country.
The situation in Afghanistan is a complicated one that deals with a combat mission that has ended on paper, while extremists either control or contest what a foreign watchdog agency reported in 2017 as 43 percent of the country’s districts. The largest problem for American and allied troops in the country is the re-energized Taliban, a Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist group who controlled the country prior the American invasion following the September 11, 2001 attacks. ISIS plays a smaller role in Afghanistan than it does in Iraq and Syria, although its influence is shrinking in those countries due to multi-nation military attacks. Western governments also face battles in Afghanistan with corruption, shifting politics and influences from other foreign players, like Russia and Iran.
In a sit-down interview late last week with LevittownNow.com, Fitzpatrick admitted that American forces face a tough and fluid situation in the country, but he believes they are making progress and will prevail over extremist insurgents.
Nicholson explained to the congressmen that “he feels he has the freedom to execute a plan and get [the Afghan] government working,” Fitzpatrick said.
President Barack Obama announced in 2017 that American combat operations in Afghanistan were ending. With President Donald Trump taking office in 2017, America’s strategy in country has changed in some aspects. While American and NATO forces in the country are not conducting the widespread boots-on-the-ground frontline combat they once did, they are still heading into dangerous situations in support of Afghan military members. Much of America’s role in the country deals with training local forces, supporting pro-Western Afghans, intelligence gathering and combat air operations.
Fitzpatrick acknowledged the price tag, loss of life and challenges in the region, but said he felt an American commitment in Afghanistan was important, and he sees a positive outcome down the road. He said American government officials thousands of miles away from the country need to listen to officials in Afghanistan and the region. He explained that their insights are unmatched.
“We need to make sure our policy is consistent with our needs on the ground,” he said, adding the insight from the ground is invaluable.
One thing Fitzpatrick heard from military officials on the ground was that congress needed to come up with a long-term budget agreement. The short-term Continuing Resolution federal funding agreements that crop up in Washington D.C. make it hard for military leaders to budget for the future due to their limited nature.
While in the Middle East, the congressman learned that a flux in the number of American diplomatic service members has caused some problems. He said the diplomats can often “stave off conflict when they can.”
The congressmen mainly stayed on bases and with American forces but was aware of the security challenges in the country first-hand.
“Everything was put in perspective on Christmas morning,” Fitzpatrick said, referencing a suicide attack in Kabul that killed six people just outside a base they visited.
Noting the soldiers on base barely flinched when they learned of the attack gave insight into the situation on the ground, the congressman said.
Fitzpatrick, a member of the House of Representatives Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees, served as an interrogator in Iraq and spent Christmas 2007 overseas. He said he connected with the soldiers serving far away from their homes and recalled when elected American officials visited the base he was stationed at.
“To be able to go back [to the the Middle East] on the other side of the table, it really meant a lot,” he said.
In addition to visiting Afghanistan, the congressmen met with the deputy prime minister and minister of defense for Kuwait and also diplomats in Amman, Jordan. He called Jordan America’s second strongest military ally in the Middle East after Israel.
When asked by a reporter, Fitzpatrick said Kuwaiti officials talked about foreign policy under Obama and Trump. They criticized Obama for not being strong enough on Syria and creating a void in American leadership in the region by not enforcing the “red line” after a chemical attack on civilians. They also said the Trump administration’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has given the administration a credibility problem in the region. However, officials in Kuwait were overall supportive of the American mission in the Middle East and Afghanistan, he said.
Fitzpatrick said the trip has given him new insight and perspective into the American mission in Afghanistan and he plans to take what he learned and heard back to Washington D.C.