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Monday, January 17, 2011

 8:29 AM 

Johnson more hopeful after trip to Pakistan, Afghanistan

Sen. Ron Johnson finished up a visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan Monday, saying he came away more hopeful of American efforts there after meeting with U.S. and Afghani troops and leaders.

During last year’s campaign, Johnson, R-Oshkosh, argued against setting deadlines with withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and was critical of the president for saying he wanted to begin drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July.

Johnson said he could not say how long U.S. troops should remain there, saying setting timelines is “extremely harmful.” He said the president’s deadline possibly produced a short-term gain of getting the attention of Afghanis, but was harmful long-term because it undermined their trust that the U.S. government would be there for their protection.

He said a continued American presence is key to providing assurances to Afghanis that they will be safe from the Taliban. He said there may be a need for advisers there for “quite some time,” but said he didn’t expect an American presence there for decades after what he saw on the ground.

“There Afghanis in the villages have got to decide which side they’re going to be on, and they’ve got to know the U.S. is going to be there and is committed to being there so the Taliban doesn’t come back,” Johnson said.

Johnson landed in Pakistan on Friday as part of a contingent organized by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that included GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Marco Rubio of Florida and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

The party moved to Afghanistan Saturday, and Johnson was scheduled to fly to England later Monday before returning to the United States on Tuesday. Their meetings included Gen. David Petraeus, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir of Pakistan and Pakistani General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Johnson said he also met with Afghani recruits who were anxious to join the fight and toured a school.

“In all honestly, I’ve just come away far more hopeful,” he said. “I think we’ve made more progress than the people are aware of back in the States.”

By JR Ross
WisPolitics


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