WASHINGTON — Sen. Deb Fischer kicked off her role as a member of the Armed Services Committee with a visit to Afghanistan over the weekend.
The newly sworn-in Nebraska Republican was part of a Senate delegation led by the Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
In a phone interview from Aviano Air Base in Italy, Fischer told The World-Herald that the trip left her feeling upbeat about the ability of Afghan security forces to take over responsibility for their country.
She noted that she had previously questioned President Barack Obama's timeline of withdrawing most combat troops by the end of 2014.
After numerous briefings from commanders on the ground in Afghanistan, she said, she now thinks that timeline is workable.
“The message was pretty positive — that the Afghan troops are going to be ready to take over and monitor the situation there in their country when the United States and the international forces leave,” Fischer said. “So that was good to hear.”
Still, she had words of caution about Obama's intention to speed up the withdrawal this summer.
“The commanders were positive in their message, and they do see the Afghan troops stepping up and they are able to, as I said, perform their duties, but that might be a little fast,” Fischer said.
After 12 years of watching the fighting in Afghanistan, the American public has grown weary of the conflict, polling has shown. That includes Nebraskans, based on a World-Herald survey from last year.
Fischer said U.S. military plans for Afghanistan will certainly be one topic of conversation when former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel comes before the Armed Services Committee as Obama's nominee for secretary of defense.
|OWH IN AFGHANISTAN|
|See more photos from the Omaha World-Herald's 2011 special reporting project in Afghanistan.|
The Obama administration has floated the idea that the United States could leave no residual troop force behind when it leaves Afghanistan, a move Fischer questioned.
“If we get to zero, then in effect we're saying we're out of the country,” she said. “I think that would be difficult to do, especially with the international forces that are there, that the United States would just completely pull out.”
She also stressed the need to provide U.S. military commanders with some flexibility.
The group visited bases in Kabul and flew south to Kandahar to see commanders there.
She said the best part of the trip was visiting with Nebraskans serving overseas.
On the way to Afghanistan, the group stopped in Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Fischer described the atmosphere in Israel as “tense.”
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