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Jim Himes on U.S. Presence in Afghanistan
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Congressman Jim Himes says he's "leaning" toward supporting President Obama's troop buildup in Afghanistan, after recently returning from a fact-finding trip to the country.  WNPR's John Dankosky reports.

Himes says still "absorbing" what his constituents have been telling him about Afghanistan, and he's had a lot to absorb, with a series of town hall meetings following his trip. 

He says he's under no illusion about what a heavily guarded congressman can learn in four-days, but from what he's seen, he disagrees with administration officials who insist that the US is not "nation building" there.

"Guess What, we're nation building.  We have USAID people all over the country, working on roads, working on security, working on cell phone towers, trying to help with commerce, trying to help people get their pomegranates to market, we are trying to build the infrastructure of an economy there, and that's simply a fact." 

Despite the questions about the mission, Himes says he is "leaning" toward supporting the President's plan for a troop surge in Afghanistan.

"I think the President did something fairly wise, which was he said to the military, he said to the CIA and to the security apparatus - you have a limited period of time and a limited amount of money to show real progress.  And, if you show real progress, then 18 months from now, we'll sit back and say 'Okay, what's next.'  But, it's up to you now - and by the way, that message was delivered to Karzai and the Afghan government as well.  I think that's a reasonable strategy."

Himes also said he has worries about what message a rapid US pullout would send to the region.  From his work on the Homeland Security committee, he sees Pakistan and Iran as the "most severe threats to our national security."  

"It feels uncomfortable to me to think that we would just, with a presence in the most dangerous corner of the world that we would just say, sorry... we're gone." 

Himes says one thing that the US has going for it in Afghanistan, compared to the frequent comparisons to Vietnam, is that the people there overwhelmingly "hate the Taliban" and might view US attempts to build infrastructure and schools as a good alternative. 

For WNPR, I'm John Dankosky.