Four new Republican senators--Marco Rubio (Fla.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Ron Johnson (Wisc.), and Pat Toomey (Penn.)--just concluded a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and senators Richard Burr (N.C.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) were on the trip as well.
"Based on everything we've see here, we are making significant progress," Senator Rubio told reporters during a conference call from Kabul this morning. "It is clear from everyone that we've spoken to that the momentum of the Taliban in the south has clearly been reversed," Rubio said. "The true test will be whether, with this partnership that we have with the Afghan government to bring the security forces up to speed, we need to be able to hand off security responsibilities."
Rubio also pushed back against establishing a public timeline for withdrawal. "Everywhere we went here--and I mean everywhere--from the markets that we walked on the streets to the Afghan authorities, all the way up to the president, even in Pakistan, what we heard repeatedly was: It is important--it is important--that it is clearly understood that the U.S. is committed to seeing this through," said Rubio.
"Otherwise there's a sense that the Taliban--and even al Qaeda--is just waiting for us to leave so they can move back in. And people are afraid to deal with us. They're afraid to buy into a governing system. They're afraid to buy into the court system. They're afraid to take their disputes to governmental entities. They're afraid to vote. They're afraid to run for office. They're afraid to take jobs in the government or volunteer for the military because they think we're leaving in 6 months or 9 months or a year. And when we do [leave] these bad guys are going to come back in and take over and punish them. So they've got to know that we're committed, and we've got to show that we're committed," Rubio continued.
"I think the goal is to leave behind a functioning Afghan state that they have built for themselves. And that is happening, and the progress is real and it is steady," said Rubio. "But I think if you attach a date to it, that you talk about openly in the press especially, you are really creating a difficult situation because people just think, the bad guys ... know all they have to do is wait us out."
During the trip, the GOP senators met with General David Petraeus, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir of Pakistan, and Pakistani General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan Army.