8 years after 9/11, Chambliss assesses situation in Afghanistan

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., urged patience with the war effort in Afghanistan while expressing his displeasure with the recent Afghan election during a phone interview from his Washington office Thursday.

Eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks that led to America’s involvement in Afghanistan, the military effort in the country continues to face major challenges. August was the deadliest month for United States-led forces in Afghanistan since the war began.

“That was not totally unexpected,” Chambliss said of the increasing casualties in the country. “The Taliban has been building up for a period of time and they continue to build up their forces.”

Chambliss, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, threw his support for Obama administration’s policy in the country even as some Senate Democrats have expressed reservation.

Chambliss joined the chorus of cynics questioning the legitimacy of the last month’s Afghan national election. A U.N.-backed oversight commission recently claimed they found “clear and convincing evidence of fraud” during their audit of the election.

The Independent Election Commission, the Afghan agency charged with counting the ballots, now seems likely to credit incumbent President Hamid Karzai as having received more than the necessary 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff.

“Afghanistan is a very corrupt country,” Chambliss said. “Anytime you have a precinct that votes 750 to zero, just for one candidate, it’s pretty obvious that something is going on there that’s not right.”

Recently members of President Obama’s own party, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have publicly opposed sending more American troops to Afghanistan. After visiting the country earlier this month, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, told the Detroit Free Press that "we should hold off adding additional [troops]."

The senior Georgia senator said he would support increasing the number of American troops in the country if Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, make that request.

Chambliss also said he would support any threats by the Obama administration to remove American troops needed to extract concessions from the Afghan government.

“I think there are definite reforms that need to be made in the government, there’s no question about that,” he said. “If (Petraeus and McChrystal) need that as a bargaining chip, then in my opinion they ought to have it.”

McChrystal is expected to make a formal recommendation on troop levels this fall.

Chambliss also parried a recent Washington Post op-ed piece from conservative commentator George Will that advocated a withdrawal of American troops from the country in favor of a targeted campaign against al-Qaida from “offshore” platforms.

“Just trying to stand off shore and throw rockets in there, in my opinion — right now — is not the answer,” he said.

To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.