Tester says situation in Afghanistan is improving, believes troops can leave Iraq this year

Associated Press

by Matt Gouras

HELENA, Mont. — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Friday during a visit to Afghanistan that progress is being made in the difficult region but a lot of work remains.

Tester was wrapping up a trip that took him to Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan this week to visit with military leaders and local officials amid mounting pressure to end an increasingly unpopular war.

The Democrat said he thinks the U.S. can start pulling troops out of Afghanistan in July and troops can be expected to be done in Iraq by year's end, as the Obama administration has said it wants.

Afghanistan remains the more difficult situation.

Many consider the creation of a stable government in Afghanistan key to U.S. plans to exit the war. An additional 30,000 combat troops were sent to that country last year in an effort to improve security so basic services like electricity and education can be built.

But progress has been slow. The administration has been reluctant to say when the troops can leave and hasn't specified how many can begin to withdraw in July.

Tester said there is no guarantee that Afghanistan will remain a stable country after American troops leave, although he said the U.S. soldiers are doing a great job giving the Afghan government a chance.

"Is there stuff that needs to happen? Absolutely," Tester said. "I am confident in one thing: I am confident that the troops are going to do the best job they can do to give it a chance for success."

He said making plans to start withdrawing is important because it sends a strong message to the Afghan people that they need to begin taking over. Tester said policymakers in Washington, D.C., are going to have to hold a serious discussion of how to best do this.

Tester was traveling with Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Carl Levin of Michigan, both Democrats on the Armed Services Committee. Tester is a member of the Appropriations Committee.

It is Tester's second trip to Iraq and his first to Afghanistan.

"I think the American forces have done an incredible job and set them up so they can succeed. That is all we can ask for," Tester said. "A stable Iraq is very, very important. A stable Afghanistan is very, very important."

U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican, said he has seen in his previous trips to the region that the troops "are making a positive impact."

"Montanans couldn't be more proud of our service men and women, and as Montana's congressman, I'll continue to give them whatever support they need to complete their jobs and return home as quickly as possible," Rehberg said.