U.S. Rep. John Shimkus thinks NATO forces should stay in Afghanistan to continue progress in boosting a government that runs by rule of law.

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus thinks NATO forces should stay in Afghanistan to continue progress in boosting a government that runs by rule of law.


Shimkus, R-Collinsville, returned last week from the country and said Tuesday that political leaders he met there had a common message for Americans.


“First was thanks to the United States for bringing freedom to Afghanistan,” Shimkus said in a conference call with reporters.


“The second thing they stressed is: ‘Do not leave too early. We need you to help because we haven’t had a functioning government in the country in over 30 years.’”


The third message, Shimkus said, was that leaders want to be able to help the United States someday. Shimkus said some of that help could come through the process of gathering local intelligence about terrorist activities.


The Shimkus trip stemmed from his role as a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Forty-four countries have troops in Afghanistan, but most soldiers there still are from the United States.


Shimkus said he got the message from military leaders that more helicopters and more troops are needed to continue to stabilize Afghanistan, but the troops should not necessarily be American.


“We’ve got our hands pretty full in Iraq,” he said.


At one point while he was in Kandahar, there were two explosions — one apparently an artillery round left on a dirt mound to go off by insurgents, and the second when it landed outside the perimeter of the base.


“I was on the phone with my chief of staff when the sirens went off,” Shimkus said. “I didn’t tell my wife till I got home.”


Responding to questions, Shimkus derided the wisdom of simply withdrawing American troops.


“What would you propose, that we would leave?” he said, raising his voice. “Well, what happens if you just leave? Then you have a failed state. Then you have destabilization in the region. Then you have the ability to fund and support our enemies.”


Shimkus also lamented that there is so much emphasis on protection of outside forces, including Americans, in Afghanistan that they don’t get out enough to meet the people and build bonds.


On Saturday, when he left Afghanistan, Shimkus did get to visit a secure market just outside the “wire” around the compound, and there was soccer game between Afghans and a team from Ukraine. He said Afghans play a team from a different coalition partner each week.


 As for Iraq, Shimkus said he would “trust the commanders on the ground” instead of politicizing the issue, and rejected the idea of a precipitous withdrawal of American troops.


“Leaving a failed state is not an option,” he said.


“What is it about our country in which we’re willing to accept defeat? … Let’s do this right for the protection of not only this generation, but for generations to come.”


Asked to define success, Shimkus said it would be “a democratic country that respects the rule of law, respects the rights of women and are allies in the war on terror.”


Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at (21) 788-1540 or bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.