Senator visits Kalispell-based troops in Afghanistan

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., visited Kalispell-based National Guard troops in Afghanistan during a whirlwind weekend trip.

During a Tuesday conference call with reporters, Daines described the soldiers he met with the 495th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion as “some great Montanans, some great Americans.”

He said he met most of the troops from the 495th at Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul. But he said he also connected via teleconference with others in the battalion who were spread across Afghanistan.

Daines said he was impressed by the soldiers’ focus on their mission. He said he fielded no complaints and witnessed many smiles in spite of the obvious hardships of being deployed far from home and family during the holidays.

Sixty-eight members of the battalion deployed in mid-May, initially to Fort Hood, Texas, and then on to Afghanistan. When they initially deployed, their deployment was projected to be for a year. Daines said Tuesday that the troops are expected to leave Afghanistan in mid-March.

As a Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, the 495th focuses on supplying such things as fuel, water, ammunition and providing other logistical support for missions.

Daines said Afghanistan remains a dangerous place, with threats from the Taliban, al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

He said he met with Gen. Scott Miller, the head of United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan. He said Miller told him the solution in Afghanistan will be a political settlement, one that brings the Taliban to the table with Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and his government.

Daines said the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan of 17 years-plus continues to have meaning, partly because it has helped thwart terrorist plots against the U.S. He said details remain classified.

And he said withdrawing prematurely would create a vacuum in which terrorist groups like ISIS could thrive.

Daines is a member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Meanwhile, Daines said he decided to take some Montana with him to the 495th. Toward this end, he delivered beef jerky from Hi-Country, based near Lincoln, and homemade cookies, he said.

The senator left the U.S. on Thursday and returned Sunday. En route to Afghanistan he stopped in Istanbul, Turkey, where he met with Instanbul Consul Gen. Jennifer Davis and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass.

Daines’ office said the senator made the trip using official funds and commercial airlines.