WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren spent her Fourth of July visiting US troops and nonmilitary personnel in Afghanistan as part of a four-day trip to the Middle East that included extensive discussions with local leaders.
Warren was part of a five-member congressional delegation — led by Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain of Arizona — that traveled to the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Afghanistan over the long holiday weekend. The trip marked the first time Warren, newly installed on the Armed Services panel this year, traveled to any of those countries.
“I learned a lot. There’s nothing like seeing it with your own eyes,” Warren said in an interview from Afghanistan on Tuesday, shortly before embarking on the long journey home.
The trip comes as the Trump administration is preparing to announce plans to send several thousand more troops to Afghanistan, according to news reports, to supplement the approximately 8,800 American forces already on the ground.
On Tuesday morning, she said, the group of senators met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani; the government’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah; the country’s new minister of defense; and all the top Afghan military and civilian leadership. They also spent time with the temporary US ambassador to the country, Hugo Llorens, and US General John Nicholson, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan.
From the ground, McCain and other delegation members criticized the Trump administration for not yet filling numerous diplomatic vacancies in the country, according to the New York Times.
“This trip only reaffirmed my belief that we need comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy,” Warren told the Globe. “Nobody on the ground here believes there is a military-only solution.”
“A solution needs to have a military angle, but also an economic and diplomatic plan. It needs to involved domestic political reconciliation, and it needs to be regional in nature, involving multiple countries in the area and account for external actors and influences. The administration owes it to the American people and to our men and women putting their lives at risk, to provide that clear vision of where we’re headed,” she said, echoing widespread criticism that the Trump administration has failed to articulate a strategy for how to win a war that’s already lasted 16 years.
Warren said the group also got the chance to travel via helicopter to the Forward Operating Base Gamberi, where they met with the US troops training and advising Afghan National Security Forces in eastern Afghanistan.
“They argued pretty strongly that the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Force has a way to go but they are making progress,” she said, including how the Afghan forces recently defeated a planned Islamic State incursion into the area.
The lawmakers were able to ask very detailed questions and probe issues ranging from what equipment they were using to whether anyone was working on a strategy to deal with the flow of heroin out of the country, the proceeds of which is helping finance the terrorists, she said.
Asked whether the experience would lead to any concrete action by herself or the larger group of senators, Warren answered cryptically: “The five of us will continue to talk and we may be making specific requests of the administration” she said, declining to give any further detail.
The other senators on the trip were Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina; Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island; and David Perdue, Republican of Georgia.
Before traveling to Afghanistan on Monday night, the group spent time in Pakistan, where they met with civilian and military leaders, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the country’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, in Islamabad.
“We will not have peace in the region without Pakistan,” McCain said during the visit.
The Pakistani military flew Warren and the other senators to the semi-autonomous region of South Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan, to view and discuss security measures the country has taken to stem terrorist activity in the area.
Warren said one of her main goals on the trip was to visit the many Americans, both military and civilian, serving in Afghanistan.
“Its hard to be away from family at any holiday,” Warren said, recalling her own brothers’ military service. “That’s what I wanted more than anything else. I know their families miss them, and I wanted the chance to thank them personally for their service.”