Rep. Larsen returns from Afghanistan

Sep 9, 2010

Arlington Times

By Adam Rudnick

AFGHANISTAN — United States Rep. Rick Larsen saw a local face during his recent trip to Afghanistan.

The 2nd District Congressman was able to pin a combat infantry badge on U.S. Army Spc. Denis Moynihan, a Marysville resident who serves out of a combat outpost in southern Kandahar.

“Here’s a young man who said he met me when I came to his high school (Marysville-Pilchuck),” Larsen said Wednesday, Sept. 1, in a phone interview. “He’s been there about three months serving his country. He earned his combat infantry badge by being in a firefight. I was able to put that on him and it was an honor to do that.”

Larsen, a Democrat from Arlington, recently spent two days in Afghanistan as part of a Congressional delegation that included U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, who is also from Washington.

Members of the bipartisan group met with U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a number of U.S. troops and embassy staff.

Larsen joined the delegation for the Afghanistan portion of the trip on Tuesday, Aug. 24 and returned that following weekend. The group also traveled to other countries in the region.

The Congressman said that despite rampant, small-scale corruption by local police, he’s pleased with the civilian effort currently underway in the country.

By the end of 2010, approximately 1,200 civilians are expected to be in Afghanistan working with the local populace to identify community projects and help stabilize each individual region, he said, adding that those civilians will need to continue to work with the troops currently in place.

“In our past trips, I never got the sense that our military folks and our U.S. government folks were working hand-in-hand,” Larsen said. “It seems like that’s different now.”

In addition to low-level corruption by Afghan authorities, Karzai has continued to tolerate that culture and blame Western aid for the country’s problems, Larsen said.

“He’s taking no responsibility at all,” he said. “I don’t expect President Karzai to wave a magic wand and make it all go away, but I don’t expect him to tolerate it.”

No timetable has been set for U.S. troop withdrawal, but Larsen hinted that changes in July 2011 could affect the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama will be reviewing his administration’s policy on Afghanistan this winter, Larsen said.

“It’s going to be a new process,” he said. “Having that timeline has let the Afghan government know that they need to take the lead on their own governance.”

Larsen said that he understands the frustrations of his district’s constituents regarding U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

“For me, it all comes back to when Afghanistan housed the Taliban and was a safe haven for Al-Qaeda,” he said. “It is a national security threat. We know what happens when the Taliban has a safe haven. In order to ensure that doesn’t happen, it does take a U.S. security presence.”