Sen. Clinton: More forces needed in Afghanistan
By SCOTT SCHONAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 16, 2007
LANDSTUHL, Germany — U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday that Afghanistan has made some progress, but the country is “tottering” and needs more troops to finish off Taliban and al-Qaida forces.
Clinton, D-N.Y., was in Germany on Monday with Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and U.S. Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., after traveling to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan over the weekend.
The congressional delegation met with wounded servicemembers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and Ramstein Air Base before heading back to the United States.
“I’m encouraged by the progress in Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is tottering,” Clinton said. “We’ve got to get more support there to make sure we try to finish off the Taliban and al-Qaida that are regrouping, coming across the border. We expect a big spring offensive.”
The bipartisan group met with Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai in addition to leaders in Iraq and Pakistan. They also met with U.S. commanders in both Afghanistan and Iraq. About 23,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan.
“The good news in Afghanistan is that the Afghans are relatively united in the direction they want to go in,” Bayh said. “The difficulty in Iraq is will the Iraqis step up and do what they need to do to get their country in a better position.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told the group in a meeting on Saturday he expects the country to have full security control of the country’s provinces in six months, McHugh said.
“It was very ambitious,” McHugh said of the Iraqi leader’s timetable. “It may not be achievable. But I wasn’t going to try and talk them out of it.”
Many Democrats have called for a gradual withdrawal of American troops, but President Bush plans to send 21,500 troops to Iraq to stem the violence.
Marine Cpl. William Harrelson, who injured his eye in Iraq and is a patient at Landstuhl, was frank on what he thinks should be done.
“Do you think more troops would help?” Clinton asked Harrelson.
“It’s just my opinion, but I think that once Saddam [Hussein] was captured we should have got out,” he answered. “But I think it’s also good that we’re also helping rebuild their security.”
One servicemember who saw Clinton in the hallway offered to help her campaign if she decides to run for president. Although she has not made any formal announcement about her presidential ambitions, it is widely speculated that she will make a run for the White House in 2008. Bayh announced last month he was forming a presidential exploratory committee.
The group traveled to Ramstein Air Base to tour the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility after meeting with patients and hospital staff members. McHugh had a scare midway through his visit at Landstuhl.
He became “shaky” and lightheaded after meeting with some wounded servicemembers and was briefly admitted to the hospital for tests. He was discharged minutes later and said he was dehydrated from the rigors of the trip, adding the group had gotten only about three hours of sleep every night and he worked out every day.
He said Landstuhl is one of the “best in the world” and joked, “I don’t think I needed to test it personally, but I did.”
Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Evan Bayh (D-IN) visit with Army Sgt. Kenneth Gibson, left, and his friend Spc. Roland Ada at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany on Monday. Ada drove in to visit a friend who was wounded in Iraq. Both are assigned to the 127th Military Police Company stationed in Hanau.
BY BEN BLOKER / S&S