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Burr wraps up visit to Afghanistan, Pakistan

Posted January 17, 2011

— U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and a contingent of lawmakers wrapped up a visit Monday to Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying they are pleased with progress in the region.

Also touring the region and meeting with military officials, political leaders and U.S. troops were Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Marco Rubio of Florida and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

The delegation met with Gen. General David Petraeus, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir of Pakistan, and Pakistani General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

"There's no question the momentum of the Taliban in the south, which has been their stronghold in Afghanistan for quite a while, has been completely reversed," McConnell told reporters in a telephone call Monday, just before leaving the country to return home.

"Now the test in the future is whether the partnership with the Afghan government can bring about the security that the country needs to kind of spring back to life," he said.

Burr said the group was able to walk through a bazaar in Helmand province without wearing body armor. A year ago, he said, they wouldn't have even ventured into the market.

"I leave Afghanistan with a very optimistic view that we have turned the corner and will this spring hand over regions to Afghan control," he said in a statement. "There will be setbacks here as there always are, but  we owe so much to the brave men and women who serve here and the many sacrifices they make on our behalf."

The group is scheduled to arrive back in Washington on Tuesday.

Events during the U.S. delegation's visit reflect continuing struggles in Afghanistan. A minivan full of civilians struck a roadside bomb on Saturday, triggering a blast that killed six of the people in the vehicle.

The Afghan government said the dead included women and children, according to a statement from the provincial governor's office. The explosion in southern Helmand province also wounded three others riding in the Toyota Townace, the provincial governor's office said in a statement.

The blast occurred in Sangin district, where international forces have been taking heavy casualties while battling a strong insurgency.

In the east, NATO said international and Afghan troops killed two insurgents and captured two suspected militants Saturday in a raid on a compound. The troops were searching for a local Taliban leader in eastern Wardak province when they were shot at Saturday in Nerkh district and returned fire.

The international military coalition did not say if the targeted Taliban leader was among those killed or captured.

McConnell said the goal of the GOP senators, many of them freshmen, was to "gain a general orientation" to the overall efforts in the Afghan and Pakistan theater.

"It's clear that 2011 is a critical year for us here in Afghanistan," McConnell said. "It's the year in which the Afghan security forces are going to have to continue to step up and play a bigger role."

McConnell said the goal is to hand over increased responsibilities to Afghan security forces by 2014, but he warned that doesn't necessarily mean NATO withdrawal.

"But there is no artificial time period for withdrawal," McConnell said. "The Taliban needs to understand that."

McConnell said he also was able to meet with troops, including some from Fort Campbell's 101st Airborne Division, where he found morale high.

McConnell said he was "deeply impressed" by the troops and said "they've done a spectacular job."

"They're making enormous sacrifices to defend our freedoms at home," he said.

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  • NCPictures Jan 18, 2011

    "You people really don't get it, do you? Its not about democracy or freedom or civil rights or any of that stuff.Its about giant military contracts for Halliburton and Blackwater.When THEY say its time to leave then we will finally leave." ----moth

    The ignorance of many people is so astounding. I am amazed at how people like you are so easily led.

  • moth Jan 18, 2011

    You people really don't get it, do you? Its not about democracy or freedom or civil rights or any of that stuff.Its about giant military contracts for Halliburton and Blackwater.When THEY say its time to leave then we will finally leave.

  • NCPictures Jan 18, 2011

    "The people over there don't like us, don't want us there and are not really interested in our value system or democracy."
    ---jdupree

    Really??? Based on what? NPR? Do you personally know anyone over there? Do you get FIRST HAND stories of what is happening? Cause if you did, you would be singing a different tune!

  • theisenguy Jan 17, 2011

    I agree,these generals always say they need another two or three yrs. to train the police and army,We've been training them for 7-8 yrs,time for them to step up to the plate.We have the best congress money can buy.

  • jdupree Jan 17, 2011

    They need to give these politicians, both Democrat and GOP a gun and let them walk the streets over there with the GIs if they want to go over there. It is hypocritical to go over there, stay in a safe zone and then come back and bragg about going and pander for votes. It's time to bring our guys home. The people over there don't like us, don't want us there and are not really interested in our value system or democracy. They will still be killing each other long after we leave and they have killed enough of our young people.