WASHINGTON Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said his recent visit to Afghanistan gave him "renewed appreciation" for the U.S. military, but also a realization that troop withdrawal from there is not going to happen as soon as many Americans would like.
Bennett was part of a five-member congressional delegation that visited Afghanistan, Pakistan and India from Nov. 28 through Dec. 2 to meet with political and military leaders. Bennett also spoke at the World Economic Forum in India during the last two days of the trip before the group returned to Washington late Tuesday.
"I do think we need to focus more on what needs to be done in Afghanistan," Bennett said at a press conference Wednesday, adding that action there often is "overshadowed" by the war in Iraq.
He said more troops on the ground there would be helpful.
"We could use more," Bennett said, "but I don't think the present level is dangerously low."
He said there is still training to be done of the police and military there, and it may be decades before U.S. troops leave.
"They are not capable of standing on their own feet yet," Bennett said.
He said Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a "very charismatic" person, and that he left a meeting with him thinking that he is the kind of leader the country would want to have.
This was Bennett's first trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he missed the meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and other officials. Bennett said he was stuck in his hotel room, suffering from what could have been food poisoning.
Bennett has been to India before in his life before the Senate, and he said the changes he saw there are "dramatic."
At the World Economic Forum, Bennett was on a panel talking about "Shifting the Power Equation: Implications for India." At first, Bennett admitted, he thought in military terms of shifting power, but the panel instead talked about shifting economic power from the United States and Europe to India and China.
Bennett said the United States recognizes the growing economy of India is a good thing for the entire world, but he stressed that he doesn't see India as a threat. He said India has the potential to be a significant partner in trade, and that he was an "unabashed defender of globalization."
"In a modern world, there is no point in pretending you can go back," Bennett said.
Bennett also pointed out that he sat next to Mukesh D. Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Limited and chairman of Indian Petrochemicals Corp. Limited, said to be one of the richest men in the world. His stock holdings alone are worth $100 billion, Bennett said, but then 650 million people in India live on less than $2 a day."They recognize they have an enormous challenge internally," Bennett said.
E-mail: [email protected]