Titus gains appreciation for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — Rep. Dina Titus says she has a “better appreciation” of the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan after visiting there last weekend to learn more about the war.

Titus, D-Nev., reacted coolly in December when President Barack Obama announced a troop surge to quell the resurgent Taliban, declining to say whether she would support the move.

While Titus believed it was necessary for the United States to fight in Afghanistan against radical Islamists and al-Qaida operatives, “I wasn’t convinced that sending 30,000 more troops was the best way to do that,” she said in an interview this week.

Titus was won over during a weekend visit with five other U.S. House members, led by Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif. It was her first trip to either Afghanistan or Iraq.

In Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul and at the Bagram Air Base, a main staging area about 38 miles to the north, the lawmakers met with aid workers, members of the Afghan parliament and small groups of soldiers.

They also were briefed by U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander who was installed by the Obama administration to counter the insurgents.

“It gave me a greater appreciation of what we are doing, what is the potential for success and what some of the needs are,” she said of the trip.

“I think there is some success potential,” Titus said. “The general was very frank, saying when they came over it looked very bleak and they weren’t sure they could turn it around. But some things have happened that have given them real hope and it gave me hope, too.”

U.S. military leaders have opened lines of cooperation with local governments and boosted the capabilities of Afghan police and military forces, improving training and cracking down on corruption, Titus said the lawmakers were told.

“It really is about, whatever the term they want to use these days, winning the hearts and minds,” she said. “And I think we can be successful.”

Titus said her interest in learning more about the war was not linked to the likelihood that her Republican challenger this fall will have a military background.

One of her opponents, former state senator Joe Heck, is a colonel in the Army Reserve and has served in Iraq. A second GOP challenger, real estate investor Rob Lauer, has served as a military policeman and was in the Army Reserve.

“I don’t think you have to be a pilot to be a patriot,” Titus said. “I would never take away from their service, but it’s about having an understanding of what is going on over there.”

Titus said her only concern on Afghanistan was how much progress McChrystal can show in 18 months, which was a goal set by Obama to begin withdrawing troops.

“I think the 18 months is a good thing to have in place,” Titus said. “Because they will have to show some progress and we will have some time to measure whether it is working or not.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.