Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, who returned home Saturday from a six-day trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, says US military officers and Iraqis are committed to meeting the Obama Administration's timetable for withdrawing American combat forces by the end of August next year.
The Lowell Democrat told reporters in a conference today that American commanders are focused on two interim steps -- withdrawing US combat forces from Iraqi cities by the end of June, and then facilitating nationwide legislative elections in December. If both are successful, it will be easier for other elements to fall into place to allow the withdrawal to conclude successfully next year, she said.
Tsongas, the daughter of a US Air Force colonel, led the six-member congressional delegation from the House Armed Services Committee. They met with General Ray Odierno and other senior US officers in Iraq, and discussed some of the impediments to a withdrawal, including a spurt in suicide bombings and delays in integrating Sunni militiamen into the Shiite-led government. She also said the fall in oil prices has crimped the Iraqi government's ability to keep investing in basic services and upgrading technology.
|Tsongas wins office in 2007 special election|
Broadly, though, she said she found wide acceptance of the timetable among the US commanders and Iraqi politicians, even with the recent upsurge in violence. She said she heard the message that "the timetable puts tremendous pressure on the US and Iraq to resolve these issues in a timely way, and everyone is working on achieving that."
"I always advocated a shorter timetable. But I'm grateful to see a timetable that everyone is taking quite seriously. you sense that in the air," she added.
In Afghanistan, she said US officers are preparing quickly to absorb the additional 17,000 troops being deployed there by President Obama to contain a renewed Taliban offensive in the south of the country.
In the southern city of Kandahar, she said US officers acknowledged that the "surge" could lead to increased US casualties. She also heard concerns that the US will struggle to increase its civilian expertise in parallel with the military surge because of a lack of investment in the US foreign service in recent years.
She said that in Kuwait, she visited a facility where workers are hurriedly refurbishing hundreds of mine-resistant armored vehicles, known as MRAPs, that were used in Iraq and now are being sent to Afghanistan.
She said she drove one, and found they are not easy to drive -- they can flip over if turned too quickly. She was impressed with the focus on training soldiers to drive them, and the effort to recondition them for the specific threats they will face in Afghanistan from roadside bombs and other attacks.
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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