Chicago Tribune By Katherine Skiba November 10, 2013
WASHINGTON - After a visit to Afghanistan, Rep. Adam Kinzinger said he supports the drawdown of U.S. forces at the end of 2014 but believes 9,000 to 10,000 U.S. troops will be needed on the ground afterward.
Kinzinger, 35, is a two-term Republican and military pilot from Channahon, near Joliet. He spoke to the Tribune after returning late last week from a week of travel to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Liberia.
NATO has about 87,000 troops, including about 60,000 U.S. military personnel, in Afghanistan. Kinzinger said he favors an overall NATO-led contingent of 15,000 or more beginning in 2015 to train and support Afghan security forces and conduct "robust" counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida and terrorist camps.
Kinzinger, who is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he visited Kabul, Bagram Air Field and Mazar-e-Sharif and left with a sense of optimism. He said Afghan forces were improving, the so-called green-on-blue killings of U.S. troops by Afghan infiltrators had been sharply cut, and the U.S. was no longer conducting unilateral missions except for counterterrorism operations.
He said Americans have the mistaken idea that the U.S. has 100,000 troops in the country and they are "getting shot up over the mountainsides and the Afghans aren't doing anything. And actually, it's just the opposite."
Kinzinger said he doesn't want another Iraq, where, he believes, defeat was snatched "from the jaws of victory" with a "precipitous" U.S. pullout that has allowed ongoing waves of bombings.
He said he met in Afghanistan with about 20 military personnel from Illinois, most in noncombat roles, and found morale "pretty high."
The first leg of the trip was Pakistan, where he met with government officials, toured the South Waziristan region by helicopter, and visited with Pakistani women who were victims of domestic violence and being helped by U.S. aid. One woman in her early 20s was forced into an arranged marriage at 13 and was seriously injured in an acid attack in a domestic dispute, he said.
As he was preparing to leave Pakistan on Nov. 1, a U.S. drone strike took out the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud. Kinzinger has no reservations about such lethal strikes, though he said capture is preferred because it can lead to intelligence to bring down networks.
He said any time a top Taliban leader is eliminated, his successor is apt to be "not as skilled or smart or as connected, so you're going to dumb down their operation."
Repeat the pattern, he said, and you can dismantle terror groups "all over the place."
He said civilian casualties in drone strikes were "sad" but inevitable, noting that some terrorists "have no compunction about strapping on a suicide vest, walking into a market and killing 30 people."
Kinzinger said he went to Liberia to see the work of 8,500 U.N. peacekeepers in the aftermath of its civil war. He was struck by the poverty and lack of infrastructure in a place that is very fond of Americans and has a constitution modeled after this country's.
Kinzinger, a major in the Wisconsin Air National Guard, first visited Afghanistan on air refueling missions in 2006 and returned the next year for medevac duties. He returned as a congressman in 2011, two days before Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan.
"I need to go to these places more often," he said, "because good things happen when I leave."