Troop Draw-Down Concerns Alaska’s Congressional Delegation

Alaska’s Congressional delegation reacted with some concern Thursday about just what the President’s planned draw down of troops in Afghanistan will mean for Alaskan soldiers. They want assurance it’s done in such a way that does not leave the remaining American forces high and dry.

Senator Lisa Murkowski heard a direct pledge from Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week that troops in Afghanistan will not get short shrift as the draw down takes place. But she’s still hearing worried questions from Alaskans, especially around Fairbanks.

“The Stryker Brigade from Fort Wainwright was going in right as things were starting to hit the most difficult time, going into the summer season. And so the families are anxious, and they hear the news that well there’s going to be this draw down, pull out of certain numbers, and they’re thinking, wait a minute, my loved one just went over there, he’s going to be there for a full year, they’re going to be pulling out all these other troops, and does this put him or her in a more precarious situation than otherwise.”

One wife with questions is Nikki Withington.  She lives in Fairbanks, and her husband just deployed to Afghanistan.  She doesn’t want budget cuts or draw downs to put him in added danger.

“Well, I think the Stryker brigade is very capable of taking care of themselves. It is their job after all. But I do think the less troops there are there, not even just necessarily American troops, the less of a presence the less safe it will be.”

Withington says she believes progress has been made in Afghanistan, and so a draw down makes sense – but she fears this may be too much too soon. And she wants the nation to turn its attention to its war and the soldiers fighting it.

“Everyone is also concerned about the big government spending and everyone is thinking like, hmm… they want the troops home, and Obama sees it as a way to cut back on how much spending the DoD is doing.”

It’s concerns from Alaskans like Nikki that have the attention of the Congressional delegation. They’re all grappling themselves with what should be done in Afghanistan. Senator Murkowski for example admits she doesn’t know what the perfect number of troops is to keep in-country. She says the President’s plan to pull out 10,000 troops this year and 33,000 by next summer is a compromise. And she doesn’t claim to know better.

“I know people in this country are war weary, I too am war weary. I go out to Walter Reed and talk to the men who have given so much, not their life but many of them their limbs. I hear their resolve and their commitment, but I look at the price that has – is being paid, and then the gains we hope we are making and a policy maker I want to be sure that we are there for the right reasons.”

Senator Mark Begich threw his support to President Obama’s draw-down plan and said he wishes more troops could come home but thinks the decision was based on strategy rather than politics.

To hear Congressman Don Young talk, disentangling from Afghanistan is necessary – the sooner the better – a unique opinion among Republicans.

“But eventually we’re going to have to get out of there. I mean I just don’t see it being successful. Like I said you go back through history and you’ve never been successful. I feel sorry for those that lost their lives, families that lost their loved ones for effort put forth. But when it first started it was a lot different than Iraq, this is a different war entirely.”

Army wife Nikki Withington knows that in modern history no one has conquered Afghanistan, and no outsider tamed it.  But she disagrees that the war cannot be won, although she says it’s hard to know exactly what victory would be. She says it’s not like World War II which ended with definitive winners and losers.

And Withington says it’s hard to know just who to listen to from Washington, and who will do the best by the soldiers.

“There’s going to be so many drastic claims and promises made over this next year from potential candidates for the presidency and Obama himself that I’m not sure what to expect from them as far as defense spending and the draw down is concerned.  I don’t know what to believe. Because some things they claim just aren’t possible.”

For now Withington looks forward to her husband’s updates from Kandahar, and makes time to listen to the policy discussions that affect them both.

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