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Shuster recounts trip to war-torn Afghanistan

April 11, 2002|BY STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster said a trip to Afghanistan opened his eyes to what life is like in the war-torn country and why, at least for now, the United States needs to maintain a military presence there.

Shuster, R-Pa., was part of a congressional delegation that returned Monday from a week of traveling throughout Afghanistan and central Asia.

"You don't get a feel for what has happened to the country on TV. It is virtually destroyed. There is no infrastructure," Shuster said during a phone interview from his Washington, D.C., office Wednesday.

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"It is a sad situation to think that anyone under age 25 has lived under war all of their lives," he said of the Afghan people.

Shuster said the trip made him aware just how devastated the country is after "20 years of fighting Soviets, civil war in the 1990s and the Taliban destroying assets."

He said Afghan officials the delegation met with made it clear they want the U.S. presence to continue.

"It is very clear and apparent they would love for us to be there for a long time," Shuster said. He cautioned, however, "We will be there a period of time, but the Afghan people have to take control and build an economy and democratic system."

Shuster said he believes the United States will face several more months of war, while helping rebuild basic infrastructure and telecommunications systems in Afghanistan.

"They have no radio, no TV. They have to have some basic telecommunication so they can talk to us," he said. "If we don't, the terrorists will come right back in."

He said the women are particularly concerned for their safety.

After years of oppression by the Taliban, Shuster said, they are still afraid to go back to school or accept any of their new rights.

"There is tremendous fear the Taliban will come back to power. It's a scary situation for women over there," he said.

Also during the trip, Shuster visited Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and met with the 10th Mountain Division, which included troops from central and western Pennsylvania. He met with Afghanistan's national leader Hamid Karzai and the Minister of Women Affairs Sima Sumar.

There is no doubt that Afghans support U.S. involvement, he said.

Children would run up to the vehicle in which the delegation was traveling and give the "thumbs-up," Shuster said.

"Bright faces giving thumbs-up was a great sign of hope for the future," he said.

Shuster took the position Wednesday that the United States should turn next to Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power because of his desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

"I don't believe it will take 500,000 troops as we had in Desert Storm," he said. "Air cover and special forces will be able to topple Saddam Hussein."

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