U.S. Rep. Wilson sees progress in Afghanistan on his 10th trip

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson meets with Afghan troops this week. He was one of several Congress members who travel to the war zones.
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson meets with Afghan troops this week. He was one of several Congress members who travel to the war zones. Special to the Gazette/Packet

Hours after six Taliban insurgents attempted to attack a major NATO airfield in Kandahar, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson rode in an armored vehicle through the crowded streets of the same city in southern Afghanistan.

He got a sense of the danger troops stationed there confront daily.

"You can't help but think that at any minute a (car bomb) could detonate," Wilson said by phone Tuesday from Bahrain. "The streets are filled with people, so if they tried to attack us, many civilians ... would be injured or killed. This enemy places no value on human life."

Wilson, who represents South Carolina's 2nd Congressional District, which includes Beaufort County, traveled with five other House Armed Services Committee members to Afghanistan this week to meet with troops and senior U.S. and NATO military officials. Wilson is the committee's ranking Republican member.

Throughout his trip, Wilson spoke with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette to give a firsthand account of progress being made by U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan.

The delegation met Monday with Gen. David Petraeus, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in June to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan.

Petraeus briefed the group on the troop increases Obama ordered in December that will send 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan by the end of this month and bring the total U.S. force there to somewhere between 98,000 and 101,000.

"(Petraeus) is a person that the American people can have faith in," Wilson said Monday from a U.S. military base in Kabul. "The President is correct .. he is the right person for the job, and the President's confidence in Gen. Petraeus is well-placed. He's a true American hero."

Wilson and the group also met with commanders and troops to whom crude but lethal roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices remain the gravest threat. According to a Pentagon report released last month, IEDs have killed or wounded an average of 239 coalition troops per month this year.

Wilson said military leaders have become increasingly reliant on intelligence from Afghan citizens about the whereabouts of insurgent fighters and IEDs.

"That intelligence is helping save a lot of lives," Wilson said.

On Tuesday, the delegation toured the southern province of Kandahar, an area many -- including Wilson -- see as crucial to success of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan because it is the birthplace of the Taliban and the region's political and trade hub.

The province also is home to some of the country's most fertile soil. Where farmers once grew grapes and pomegranates, they now cultivate poppy, from which morphine, heroin and other opiates are made and sold illegally in the United States and other countries.

Wilson said curbing poppy production is essential to military success in Afghanistan.

"Poppy production and terrorism go hand in hand," Wilson said. "Poppy production is a funding mechanism for terrorism and corruption."

This week's trip to Afghanistan was Wilson's 10th since taking office in 2001, and he said he can see definitive signs of progress in things as simple as the ability to place an international cell phone call.

"Eighty percent of people have access to a cell phone in the third-poorest nation on Earth," Wilson said. "As we drive around, we see more paved roads than we have in the past and we see lots of commercial and civilian traffic. You can really see a civilized society developing here."

The group returned home Thursday.