During my campaign, I was frequently asked my opinion on the global war on terror and progress we had made in the Middle East. With a background in finance, I am no foreign policy expert; therefore, I could only base my opinions on reports I read in the news.
This spring, when Rep. Joe Wilson asked if I would be interested in going on a trip to visit our troops and learn more about U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Qatar, I jumped at the opportunity. I warned Joe that I may not be the most knowledgeable in this field, but he assured me that aside from my South Carolina roots, that was precisely why he had invited me along.
The day before Memorial Day, we began week-long our trip to U.S. military bases and Embassies across Europe and the Middle East. Our first stop was the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo to meet with Ambassador Tracy Ann Jacobsen. She gave us an encouraging report and praised our troops for the work they have done. Ambassador Jacobsen then introduced us to some of the Nation’s leaders; one of whom told me that if not for the American troops, she and her family would be dead and her country would not be free. After meeting with Kosovo’s leaders, we departed for Camp Bondsteel where we learned more about the U.S. mission in Kosovo and I was also able to meet with members of the South Carolina National Guard.
From Bondsteel, we returned to the Landstuhl Military Hospital in Germany to visit with our injured soldiers on Memorial Day. I met with three of our country’s bravest who had recently fallen victim to an IED. The visit was an emotional experience, one I will never forget, and it was a blessing that no one died in the attack. The MRAP vehicle these soldiers were traveling in saved their lives, and it was built right here in South Carolina.
After visiting with our injured service members, we went to visit more of our American soldiers in Qatar and Afghanistan. Flying over Afghanistan, I was shocked by the size of Kabul, the modernization of the towns, and the region’s infrastructure — improvements attributable to our courageous troops and the Afghan Army. It was evident that Afghanistan is transitioning from a war-torn country to a country in the early phases of stabilization, but one that still has a good way to go.
At Bagram Airfield, one of the largest U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, I met with our servicemen and women, generals, and the base commanders. One of the generals was proud to report that we are currently in the final phase of the mission, meaning that Afghan troops have taken the lead with American troops serving as backup. Our troops have assembled and trained an Afghan army of more than 352,000 soldiers, capable of defending itself against the Taliban. The Afghan National Army (ANA) is currently adding approximately 50,000 soldiers a year, an encouraging growth rate that has both Afghan and U.S. leaders proud. Everyone I spoke to on base shared with me stories of progress and optimism, signs of a job well done, and more importantly, a job worthwhile.
On the last day, exhausted, we visited one last base. I went into this visit thinking it was going to be a similar base visit to the ones we had earlier in the week. Boy, was I wrong.
When the helicopter prepared for landing, we were told that we were now in Afghan territory and were landing at an Afghan military base. I could tell emotions were high as we got off the helicopter and were loaded into armored vehicles. Both Afghan and American troops were on edge at the arrival of our group.
This tension immediately subsided when the general of the Afghan National Army expressed his gratitude to American troops and thanks for the sacrifices made by our troops, their families, and to our government to help their country and the Afghan people. The general assured us that the Taliban will never be back in control and Afghanistan will no longer be a haven for terrorism.
We have lost too many of our young men and women in battle, but the global war on terror has been successful in defeating some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists and stopping their deadly attacks on our soil. Since one of the darkest days in our country’s history, we have been successful in protecting our homeland. I have seen firsthand that our troops are in high spirits and morale on the ground is very optimistic. They are confident in their progress, and that the Afghan Army will soon be able to stand on its own. Please continue to keep our troops and their families in your thoughts as they protect the freedoms we each hold dear.
The writer is the U.S. Representative for the Seventh Congressional District.