Courtney: Afghanistan effort now more focused

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney speaks with an unidentified U.S. Army officer during his recent visit to Afghanistan.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney speaks with an unidentified U.S. Army officer during his recent visit to Afghanistan. Courtesy U.S. Army

In previous visits to Afghanistan, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said he noticed that there wasn't much direction in the strategy there, that the U.S. forces were "treading water."

Now, he said, there's a focused effort on the transition and the drawdown.

Courtney returns today after spending several days in Afghanistan, along with Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway of Texas and Bob Turner of New York.

In Afghanistan they met with a number of military leaders, including Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama has said he plans to withdraw 33,000 troops from the surge in Afghanistan by next year.

"A lot more areas of the country are going to be handed over to direct Afghan control; now it's only Kabul (the capital) and some of the surrounding areas," Courtney said in a telephone call Tuesday from the airport in Kyrgyzstan.

"By the end of the year about half the country is going to be under primarily Afghan control," he said. "And they're not going for the easy areas that are relatively empty; they're focusing on areas that are tougher, like Kandahar."

Courtney said the logistics and administration personnel will probably be the first to leave, followed by combat brigades. He said U.S. forces are "trying to step up" the training of the Afghan military and police and incorporating reading comprehension into the schooling.

Allen is concerned about the literacy rates among local troops and the safe havens that terrorists use in Pakistan, Courtney said. He described the general as "very frank" about the obstacles ahead.

The congressmen visited a training site where local soldiers were learning to disarm roadside bombs, and a farming village north of Kabul where U.S. special forces run a police training program in an area that Courtney says was overrun by the Taliban less than a year ago.

Courtney called the grassroots-level approach "very impressive." He said he met a lieutenant from Waterford and soldiers from several other Connecticut towns.

Courtney previously visited Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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