Sen. Steve Daines said Tuesday that his recent trip to Turkey and Afghanistan reminded him that the “end game” is a political settlement with the Taliban and an Afghan government that can function on its own.
However, the situation in the war which is now in it 17th year is complex, Daines said, adding a U.S. withdrawal now would have devastating consequences and put Americans at risk.
In a telephone call with reporters, the Montana Republican said he visited troops with the Kalispell-based 495th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion now serving in Afghanistan on an air base north of Kabul. They are led by Lt. Col. Mike Beck, a Great Falls educator, Daines said.
He said the unit’s motto is “We move mountains.”
“It was a great honor to meet them,” Daines said, adding that visiting them was the highlight of the trip. He called them not only great Montanans, but “great Americans.”
He said the 495th has military personnel throughout Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan remains a very dangerous place,” Daines said, noting not just the threat from the Taliban. He said ISIS and al Qaida forces are embedded in the country.
“If not for these (U.S.) troops, ISIS would be in a much better place to strike against U.S. forces,” he said.
Daines said it was his second trip to Afghanistan. His first was 3 ½ years ago. He said he took a commercial flight.
Daines said he met hours earlier in Turkey with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass, who was returning from a United Nations conference in Geneva regarding Afghanistan. In Turkey, Daines visited the historic Grand Bazaar, his staff said, where he received briefings near Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque.
He said he and Bass talked about the growing Russian influence in Turkey. He said they should return from their nine-month deployment in mid-March.
“I didn’t hear any complaints, Daines said of his visit. “There was a focus on the mission and there was a lot of smiles.”
Daines took a Blackhawk helicopter to Afghanistan and brought bags of treats from Hi-Country Jerky in Lincoln, plus some baked goods.
He said members were from towns throughout the state such as Great Falls, Kalispell, Whitefish, Miles City and Cut Bank.
“It was nice to see them smiling and to see them focused on the mission,” Daines said.
He also said the spirit of the “Brawl of the Wild” was alive and well overseas as he saw some University of Montana and Montana State University flags flying throughout the encampment.
Daines said he met with four-star Gen. Scott Miller, who serves as the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.
”Gen. Miller is not driven by timelines, but is driven by goals and objectives,” Daines said.
He praised Miller, calling him a very decorated special operations soldier.
“He is the right leader at this time,” Daines said.
Daines said President Barack Obama’s administration erred when it announced a withdrawal date.
“The military felt it had its hands tied,” he said, adding munitions now being dropped in Afghanistan are seven times greater than the last year of Obama’s presidency.
“Miller said we will not bomb our way to peace but have to show the Taliban we are serious,” Daines said.
He said the Trump administration was following a better course in which it has set conditions for victory and transition of power to the Afghanistan government in which it would function without a U.S. presence.
President Donald J. Trump has not visited troops overseas, but has called them to talk. In response to a reporter’s question, Daines said the president should go.
“It means a lot to the troops,” he said.