In his first official overseas trip, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and a handful of fellow freshman Republicans in Afghanistan this weekend to meet with U.S. military commanders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
In a conference call with reporters held Monday in Kabul, Rubio stressed that while both he and President Obama support the war effort, now in its 10th year, he opposes the timeline for troop withdrawal scheduled to begin this summer:
“I think we are on the timeline this year to have some real good news and make some significant progress,” the Florida Republican said. “But I think if you attach a date to it … you are really creating a difficult situation. The bad guys, the Taliban and even al-Qaida, must know all they have to do is wait.”
“People want to make sure that we are in this to win this. We are in this for the long haul,” Rubio said. “Everyone on the ground is really enthusiastic about the progress that’s being made…There’s a long ways to go. There’s no way to overestimate how serious the challenge is but we are headed in the right direction.”
Instead of an “artificial timeline,” Rubio suggested instead that progress be gauged by those territories that have successfully established government infrastructure and trained enough Afghan security forces.
Rubio and his delegation also toured U.S. operations in neighboring Pakistan, which he said is facing “serious and multiple challenges” from religious extremists, adding that American commitments in the region will be “enduring”:
“If there is one thing we heard clear everywhere we went, it’s that people want to make sure that we are in this to win this, that we are in this for the long haul,” Rubio said of a U.S. presence in the region. “We tried to communicate that on behalf our constituents, that the American people are not going to tolerate sanctuaries for al Qaeda or the return of the Taliban to power.”