Sandoval says U.S. must keep presence in Afghanistan

Governors Brian Sandoval, left, and Jay Nixon, Missouri, meet with a soldier in Afghanistan this weekend.

Governors Brian Sandoval, left, and Jay Nixon, Missouri, meet with a soldier in Afghanistan this weekend.

From the first time he visited Afghanistan in August 2011 to his most recent trip this weekend, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said he sees the progress being made by both Afghan and U.S. military forces and says the U.S. should keep a military presence there.

After being briefed by the U.S. ambassador and military generals after a delegation of state governors’ arrival to Kabul, Sandoval said he has seen the progress made during the past three years. For example, on Monday in Afghanistan, he said new president Ashraf Ghani will be inaugurated and afterward, Sandoval said he hopes a bilateral agreement can be formulated.

Speaking to Nevada reporters from one of the military bases at Kabul, the nation’s capital, Sandoval said today (evening local time) was an honor to represent the United States on this trip along with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. As with the other governors, Sandoval also wanted to talk with the soldiers and airmen while there to learn more about the country’s most recent changes.

Besides the military gains and training achieved by the Afghan military forces, Sandoval sees other improvements.

“Progress has been made in the areas of health, education, infrastructure and security,” he said.

Sandoval cited the improvement in education, for example, as the country has more than 14,000 schools educating 8 million students including women. He said the literacy rate has improved from 12 to 30 percent, and healthcare is available to a majority of the population.

“The life expectancy has also increased from 43 to 60 percent,” he said.

In order to maintain the gains made by NATO forces, Sandoval said it is important the U.S. maintain a military presence in Afghanistan and to serve in an advisory role to the Afghan forces.

“I’m impressed with the level of the Afghan soldiers and the security forces,” Sandoval added. “The Afghans have been making significant roles in the sophistication of their training.”

From what he has seen and heard, Sandoval said the country is moving forward in a positive direction. The Nevada governor said it’s critical that the gains the U.S. military and its NATO partners have made are not lost.

“We don’t want to happen in Afghanistan that we lose the gains here (and) what happened in Iraq,” he said adding that those gains “translate into security for us.”

For that reason, Sandoval said a military presence muse be made so that the home front doesn’t experience terrorist activities.

“We want to ensure the Taliban doesn’t gain a foothold like they had before,” Sandoval said.

The Taliban, who assumed government control almost six years after the Soviet Union military pulled out of the country in the late 1980s, stayed in power until the U.S. air bombing campaign forced them out after Sept. 11, 2001.

The governors’ delegation leaves Afghanistan Monday morning, local time. To get to Afghanistan, though, in this whirlwind trip, Sandoval flew to Washington D.C. on Friday and then the delegation left for Germany. From there, they traveled to Afghanistan. While in Germany, the military escorted the governors to Ramstein Air Base near the town of Ramstein-Miesenbach, and they visited the troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

“We met with the wounded warriors there. One man whose wife lives in Dayton is excited to move back,” Sandoval said.

Once in Afghanistan on Saturday, Sandoval visited Nevada soldiers and airmen at Bagram Air Field, the largest airfield and staging area in the country near Kabul.

“Bagram is an ongoing concern and important piece of U.S. presence in the country,” Sandoval said. “Kabul as well.”

Sandoval said he learned, however, other bases and forward operating bases near the front lines will be closed or are closed.

Currently, Det. 45, Operational Support Airlift of the Nevada Army National Guard is flying out of Bagram, and Sandoval said he also met with 20-30 active duty soldiers.

“To a person, everyone is excited to be here,” Sandoval said.

During his short stay in Afghanistan, Sandoval said the delegationremained on miltiary bases and did not talk with any Afghan government officials.

The Department of Defense invited Sandoval and the other governors to see the situation in Afghanistan and to meet with military personnel from their respective home states. As the state’s commander in chief and head of the Nevada Homeland Security Commission and a member of the Council of Governors, Sandoval said it was important to see the country and what progress has been made since he last visited.

Sandoval said the drawdown at Bagram was fascinating as personnel equipment for its repatriation to the United States.

“It’s a really complex operation, one being accomplished in a good way,” he said.

One of the memories Sandoval said he will remember from his second trip is the commitment displayed by the soldiers and airmen.

“The takeaway from this trip is the troops here are away from their families, their loved ones and reservists are away from their jobs,” he said, adding that they are to be commended for the sacrifices they make to serve their country.


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