Senators, in Afghanistan, say U.S. must stay involved
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (CNN) -- America must stay "committed and engaged" in Afghanistan to help rebuild the country and prevent terrorists from gaining another foothold there, several U.S. senators visiting the country said Monday.
They are among a nine-member delegation that arrived Monday at Bagram Air Base north of the Afghan capital to meet with interim government chairman Hamid Karzai, during their second stop on a tour of nine Asian nations.
"I think people are proud we are involved here, understand we need to be here to protect our own security. And it would be a terrible mistake to walk away and let this place fall back into the dictatorship and poverty that is the ground in which fanatical extremists like [Osama] bin Laden grow," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, a member of the Armed Services Committee.
"We are not going to be alone, and that is the way it should be," he added, referring to U.S. allies such as Britain who are aiding the war against terrorism.
"It is critical that America stay committed and engaged in this region," said Sen. John Edwards, D-North Carolina, after the meeting with Karzai.
Republican Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee said the United States must play a key role in helping Afghanistan rebuild.
"We have been a little bit too far removed, and now we realize that a place on the other side of the world that most people never heard of can pose a real threat to us," said Thompson, who sits on the Governmental Affairs Committee.
Edwards, a member of the Select Intelligence Committee, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, another Armed Services Committee member, expressed frustration that terrorist mastermind bin Laden had not yet been captured.
"I think that we've heard a lot of things. We have heard from the officials in Uzbekistan that they believe he is in Pakistan. We have some other information from here. I think the reality is we are trying to locate him specifically and that we will find him," Edwards said. Uzbekistan was the first stop on the trip.
Others in the delegation are Sens. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island; Susan M. Collins, R-Maine; Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska; Bill Nelson, D-Florida; and Jean Carnahan, D-Missouri.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair also was touring Bagram Air Base on Monday after visits with feuding nuclear neighbors India and Pakistan. Blair met Sunday with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and met Monday with Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
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