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Tallahassee Democrat: Rubio Sees Progress In Training Afghans To Protect Themselves

Feb 3, 2011 | News

U.S. troops are making significant progress training Afghan security forces to protect the country after U.S. soldiers leave, although problems remain, Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday from Afghanistan.

The Florida Republican, who also joined other senators in visiting Pakistan, declined to estimate when U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan.

The U.S. timetable calls for withdrawing in 2014, but Rubio said that will depend on how many local governments are prepared to take over after Americans leave.

“2011 is going to be a critical year for Afghan security forces,” Rubio said by phone from Kabul. “They are going to step up and play a bigger role. We are heartened by some of the early success that we’ve seen.”

But after watching U.S., British and Jordanian troops conduct a training exercise with Afghan troops, Rubio said much more needs to be accomplished. He noted that some trainees who will have to use a Humvee to sweep for mines had never driven any vehicle before joining the military.

“They are certainly a world away from where they were,” Rubio said. “There are real challenges. What we learned is that for a significant period of time, there was no serious training effort. It will take time to ramp up.”

Rubio visited Afghanistan and Pakistan with fellow Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

The group toured a market in Nawa and Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan. The open-air market was evidence the local police force is doing better keeping the area secure.

“They’ve got a long ways to go economically and socially in the progress they have to make, but they have well-trained police officers on the ground,” Rubio said. “There is no way to overestimate how serious the challenge is. But we are headed in the right direction.”

Read the full story here.