Candidates generally skeptical of expanding U.S. effort in Afghanistan

By Steve Collins, Staff Writer

Published on Friday, Sep 1, 2017 at 11:11 am | Last updated on Friday, Sep 1, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Political challengers who hope to represent Maine in the nation’s capital are divided about how best to deal with the nation’s longest war.

Though several are skeptical of President Donald Trump’s overhaul of American policy toward Afghanistan, one Democratic congressional contender said it might be the best option available.

Trump’s recent shift in strategy offers the opportunity “to shift the whole narrative” in Afghanistan from growing Taliban control to a renewed effort by the Afghan government to seize the initiative, said Tim Rich of Bar Harbor.

Trump said last week he’ll put more troops on the ground there to hunt terrorists and won’t set any deadlines for American forces to come home from a war they’ve fought for the past 16 years. If it proves successful, Rich said, it could help make the world safer.

But other candidates see less ground for optimism.

Republican Eric Brakey, a state senator from Auburn, said, “The youngest American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan today were barely toddlers when it began.”

Brakey is challenging U.S. Sen. Angus King, a first-term independent who is seeking re-election next year.

“Our nation has now been at war in Afghanistan for over half my life,” he said in a Facebook post, years during which he’s “watched friends ship off, full of eagerness to serve their country, only to return after multiple tours wondering what they were even fighting for.”

State Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat who is taking on Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the 2nd District, is one of the many U.S. Marines who have done combat tours in Afghanistan. He returned after college as a civilian to lend a hand to Afghans trying to overhaul their government and economy.

Golden said he’s come to think that America’s priority should be rebuilding itself, not Afghanistan, where he said billions of dollars have been wasted over the years.

“We’re not going to rebuild or fix” the country where he spent two years of his life, Golden said.

“The only people that are going to fix Afghanistan are the Afghans,” he said.

Brakey said there is “nothing to win in Afghanistan. We cannot nation-build this land.”

Brakey pointed out that terrorist kingpin Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the 9/11 attacks against the United States, “is long dead” and insisted that “it’s time to declare victory and bring our young men and women home, not send more off to fight and die in this foreign land.”

Golden said the notion that a surge in troop levels — reportedly fewer than 4,000 additional soldiers — is going to matter much is belied by the reality of what happened when President Barack Obama tried a much larger surge in numbers back in 2009.

“How’d that work out?” Golden asked.

Another Democratic congressional contender, Jonathan Fulford of Monroe, said that increasing the American commitment to Afghanistan “when we have no actual plan to win the war and then get out” is a dangerous mistake.

Fulford called it “a way to waste the lives of our children and the resources of our country.”

Maine’s four lawmakers on Capitol Hill were also divided about Trump’s new policy, with several hoping it would work out and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat, expressing doubt.

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In this Aug. 27 photo, a U.S. Marine takes part during a training session for Afghan army commandos in Shorab military camp in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Despite seemingly stalemated peace talks between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban, officials familiar with the efforts say the country’s intelligence chief has exchanges by telephone nearly every day with leaders of the militant group.

– Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press


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