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Rubio, in Afghanistan: ‘We’ve got a lot to do’

Monday, January 17th, 2011 by Dara Kam

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and a handful of other Senators are winding up a four-day in Afghanistan and Pakistan where they met with military officials from both countries and dined with Afghan President Hamid Karzai last night.

From Kabul this morning, the freshman from Florida told reporters he was encouraged by what he saw but cautioned that “2011 is going to be a very crucial year for our efforts here.”

Rubio joined Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, on the trip where they met with Gen. David Petraeus and also watched Afghan National Army training exercises.

Rubio said the Afghan people and government need assurances from the U.S. that “we are in it for the long haul” and discouraged setting numbers for U.S. troop withdrawal from the region.

“People want to make sure that we are in this to win this. We are in this for the long haul,” Rubio said. “Everyone on the ground is really enthusiastic about the progress that’s being made…There’s a long ways to go. There’s no way to overestimate how serious the challenge is but we are headed in the right direction.”

Benchmarks for U.S. withdrawal from the region should not focus on the number of troops returning but the number of areas that successfully transition to a functioning government, Rubio said.

“From everything I’ve seen here we are making physical progress,” he said, adding, “You can’t overestimate what a difficult challenge it is.”

Afghanis need assurances that the U.S. will remain because they are afraid that “the bad guys” will resume control of the region, Rubio emphasized.

“They’re afraid to vote. Theyr’e afraid to take jobs and work for the government or volunteer for the military…because …these bad guys are going to come back in and take over again,” he said. “You are really creating a diff situation because people think the bad guys, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, all they have to do is wait.”

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