Send more troops, Hillary Clinton says

She visits Afghanistan, says more security needed

November 28, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton called for the deployment of additional foreign soldiers in Afghanistan during a Thanksgiving Day visit to U.S. troops here. Clinton, noting recent attacks on aid workers, said reinforcements from the United States or NATO are needed to increase security.

"I believe we need more troops," the New York Democrat said. "I don't think we have an adequate number of troops to do what needs to be done."

Clinton was making a one-day visit to Afghanistan with Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island. Both serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee and plan to visit Iraq and Israel after Afghanistan.

The senators began the visit here with a meeting with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in Kabul's stately presidential palace. They ended it in a linoleum-floored Army mess hall, eating turkey, mashed potatoes and yams off cardboard trays with soldiers from Fort Drum, N.Y., the base of the 10th Mountain Division.

Twenty officers and soldiers from communities across New York dined with the senators.

Clinton received a generally warm reception from members of the military.

After the meal, more than a dozen soldiers formed a line to have their photographs taken with the former first lady. A half-dozen asked for her autograph, often inscribed to their daughters. One soldier had Clinton autograph an American flag.

"It's great that she came here," said Capt. Jim Mullin, a 29-year-old from Mahopac, N.Y., who pointed out that Clinton could have spent the holiday with her family. "It's selfless, something I respect."

Both senators criticized the Bush administration's policies in Afghanistan. Reed said the United States has wasted "precious months" in the country and lost momentum in the struggle against Islamic militants.

"We let our attention wander from Afghanistan," he said. "We lost the initiative. We gave these groups a second chance."

The senators called on NATO countries to contribute additional troops for a long-delayed expansion of peacekeeping operations outside Kabul, the capital.

Operations against the Taliban and other militants are being carried out by 11,600 combat troops, most of them American. An additional 5,500 international soldiers patrol Kabul in a NATO-led peacekeeping mission.

Soldiers said they hope the visit will heighten American public interest in Afghanistan and the profile of the 10,000 U.S. soldiers deployed here.

"Them being here raises awareness," said Capt. Micaela McMurrough, a 27-year-old intelligence analyst from Ithaca, N.Y. "Sometimes we do feel this is a bit of a forgotten war."

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