Sign in / Join
1025

Kinzinger backs more U.S. troops, expanded mission, in Afghanistan

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger talks about the way forward in the nearly 16-year-old conflict in Afghanistan, now the country’s longest war, during a conversation with with former Rep. Jane Harman at the Wilson Center in Washington on May 25, 2017. (Olivier Douliery / Tribune News Services)

As President Donald Trump’s administration weighs sending up to 5,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Rep. Adam Kinzinger Thursday called for more military personnel and expanded operations there.

Kinzinger, a Republican from Channahon, has visited Afghanistan as a congressman and flown missions there as an Air National Guard pilot. He urged more help for Afghan defense forces during remarks at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Kinzinger did not say how many U.S. troops should join the roughly 8,400 already on the ground. At peak, there were about 100,000 troops there. He said the drop off sent a message to the enemy: "You can out wait us."

As the Afghan military fights the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, Kinzinger also wants the rules of engagement loosened to allow for more U.S. and NATO air strikes. The rules seek to limit civilian casualties.

The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces historically have been beset by problems. But Kinzinger said the favorability rating of the U.S. is high in Afghanistan and "for the most part, we have a partner that wants to work with us to bring stability, but there’s huge challenges."

He said the danger of abandoning the country was it could return to being a safe haven for terror networks that would strike the U.S. again, as on 9-11. "The Taliban has been saying America has the watches, but we have the time," Kinzinger said, making the case for the U.S. and its partners to ratchet up the fight. "Well, I think we have the time too."

Kinzinger, a 39-year-old major in Air National Guard, said the war on terror, to some extent, would last for the rest of his life. He called military power "an essential piece" in a war against an extremist ideology but also made the case for soft power.

He pointed to 7- and 8-year-olds in refugee camps or misplaced by the civil war in Syria, where said he said Western countries have failed to take decisive action. Kinzinger supported Trump’s air strikes in Syria but criticized his budget proposal calling for cuts to the State Department and foreign aid.

The lawmaker, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, praised the work of pro-democracy groups such as the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute and said spending on such non-governmental groups "is lot cheaper than a 500-pound, laser-guided bomb."

Kinzinger’s remarks were billed as a conversation on the way forward for "America’s longest war," which began nearly 16 years ago after al-Qaeda plotted and directed the 9-11 attacks from Afghanistan.

"There’s not going to be a moment where the Taliban signs the surrender on the ship like World War II," he said after his talk. "It’s going to be a moment where they decide to negotiate, and reintegrate, and be part of a government that actually recognizes the rights of all people."

To do that the Afghan military, with backing from Western allies, has to keep the pressure up against the Taliban "so that they realize that they simply can’t win. And at some point (they) decide to integrate versus to continue to fight a losing war."

Twitter: @KatherineSkiba