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In Afghanistan, U.S. Senators Urge Trump To Define Policy


A bipartisan group of senators was in Afghanistan this week led by Republican John McCain of Arizona. They went to talk about a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, and they're calling for President Trump to articulate a clear military strategy and fill diplomatic vacancies.

For more on this, we're going to talk to Senator Jack Reed. He's a Democrat of Rhode Island, and he's ranking member of the armed services committee. Senator Reed, welcome to the show.

JACK REED: Thank you, Kelly, very much.

MCEVERS: You've been to Afghanistan 17 times since the start of the war. What do you think about the situation there today?

REED: Well, the situation is very fragile. I was there last October, my last visit. There was political disarray caused by the tension between the two co-executives, President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. And there's also issues of corruption and capacity, and then there's a resurgent Taliban on the ground. And because of the resurgent Taliban, the Afghani security forces have taken significant casualties, great attrition. And so it's a stalemate that is not favoring us at the moment...

MCEVERS: The Trump administration...

REED: ...And that's causing concern.

MCEVERS: Right. The Trump administration is in the process of reviewing U.S. policy in Afghanistan, and we are expecting to hear more about that this month. What do you want to hear?

REED: Well, first it has to be a comprehensive approach. Simply putting more American advisers on the ground is not going to be adequate. As my colleagues pointed out this weekend, we need an ambassador there. We have not had an ambassador for many months. We need a strong state presence, and we also need a capacity building effort - not just military capacity but governmental capacity. And we also need to identify the resources not just in the United States but internationally. This is a NATO operation as well as a United States operation.

MCEVERS: Well, I mean these are things that we've been hearing for some time, I have to say. I mean forgive me for saying, but what can be done differently now?

REED: Well, this has been very frustrating. I went in with Senator McCain in one of the first groups in January of 2002. And it's been very frustrating because this approach has been on the table. It just hasn't been well executed over now 16-plus years. And we have to - we've made some progress. I think having advisers with the units, perhaps getting them down to a brigade level selectly, might make some sense. But without an overall plan in terms of governance, without not only military capacity but diplomatic capacity and without this comprehensive approach with direct presidential involvement and guidance, I think we'll continue to sort of move along without progress.

MCEVERS: This group of senators there in Afghanistan includes John McCain, as I said, and also Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Those two don't always agree on everything. Would you say when it comes to Afghanistan there is some bipartisan agreement among your colleagues? And how can that bipartisanship, you know, help move this forward?

REED: There is a bipartisan basis. We went into Afghanistan unified because that was the source of the attacks on 9/11. We conducted effective military operations. And then frankly one of the things we did was shift our attention and resource and effort to Iraq, which really hurt our efforts in Afghanistan because for several critical years, we weren't putting the forces or the effort there. The Taliban got back in the game, and now they're really back in the game.

We also have to look at sort of the regional issues, too. Pakistan continues to provide refuge to elements that are attacking Afghan forces in Afghanistan. That has to be dealt with. But there is a bipartisan core because we started that way. And hopefully we can have a plan that will draw bipartisan support.

MCEVERS: Senator Jack Reed, ranking member of the armed services committee and Democrat from Rhode Island, thank you very much.

REED: Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.