Alaska delegation split on Obama's announcement

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 1, 2009 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's announcement he would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan got near-unequivocal support Tuesday from Sen. Mark Begich, a fellow Democrat. But Rep. Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans, raised more questions about the buildup.

"I am heartened the President's plan includes benchmarks for progress and most importantly, an exit strategy," said Begich, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I commend the President for thoroughly evaluating all his options and listening to the advice of his senior military and civilian leaders."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she's pleased Obama's proposed troop buildup comes close to the 40,000 sought by U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan. The American public needs no reminder of why the U.S. must have a military presence.

"But the key question is whether the President is fully committed to a strategy that provides a peaceful future for the people of Afghanistan and ceases the export of global terrorism from within its borders," she said.

Also, while she thinks there's merit in putting the Afghan people on notice that "they need to take control of their own future," the date of withdrawal shouldn't be applied arbitrarily, Murkowski said.

"Laying out the exit strategy to the enemy, to me, does not seem to be a wise course of action. If I were the bad guys on the other end, I would now know how long I've got to wait it out and I would hunker down and do just that. Any exit strategy should be dictated by what is happening on the ground."

"Setting arbitrary deadlines and padding the fields with more troops is not the answer to being successful in Afghanistan," said Republican Rep. Don Young. "Alaskan-based troops and their families have made enormous sacrifices to protect their country. We need to give our troops the tools they require, the support they need, the respect they deserve, and the freedom to do their jobs."

Like Young, both Begich and Murkowski took the president's speech as an opportunity to reiterate the state's contribution to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Alaskans have a personal stake in Afghanistan because 4,000 of our Alaska-based service members are serving there in harm's way today, with more Alaska soldiers to be deployed in the near future," Begich said. "As more young Americans are sent to the front lines, I'll do everything within my power to make sure they have the resources, equipment and right strategy they need to get the job done."

Murkowski said she was concerned about the cost of the escalating war effort. But she also said that from her perch on the Senate Appropriations Committee, she would continue "to ensure that our troops have sufficient funds to carry out their mission."

The troop buildup could put units from Alaska bases in the mix for a return to the region sometime next year. However, the first units to deploy will be a brigade of Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., followed by Army brigades from Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Drum, N.Y.

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