WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPRI) - U.S. Sen. Jack Reed left Washington in secret on Thursday for an official visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan, WPRI.com has learned.
In an interview before his departure, Reed said he's traveling to the troubled region for talks with local leaders about the American military's ongoing transition out of Afghanistan and the country's relationship with Pakistan, a key regional ally. He will also visit American soldiers from Rhode Island and elsewhere to thank them for serving.
Among those Reed plans to meet with are Gen. John Allen, the commander of NATO forces in Afghansitan, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is up for re-election in 2014. "One of the points of the meeting with the president is to keep the transition on track," Reed told WPRI.com. "There are other social, economic and political issues that have to be dealt with."
Karzai is scheduled to come to Washington over the weekend for further talks. "He'll leave Sunday and come here, so we will have a chance to speak with him before he comes to the U.S. to meet with President Obama," Reed said.
General Allen has submitted recommendations that are being reviewed about who will remain in Afghanistan to support that nation's military after most Americans leave. "It's clear that by 2014 the bulk of our forces, except for some trainers and some logisticians and maybe some special-operations forces, will be out," Reed said.
This is Reed's 14th trip to Afghanistan since the war began there in 2001. His last visit was in May. He's traveling with U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Reed is a senior member of the committee and is widely expected to become its chairman if Levin decides to retire rather than seek another term in 2014.
"Everyone should understand it's very complicated," Reed said of the situation in the region. "It's not just what happens in Afghanistan. It's also what happens in Pakistan. It's continued international support for a legitimate government in [the Afghan capital] Kabul. It's the responsibility of the Afghan people to come together."
Reed has already had a busy week, with the Senate voting after 2 a.m. on New Year's Day for a compromise bill to avoid the fiscal cliff and the new 113th Congress getting sworn in for a two-year term on Thursday at noon.
Reed and Levin will return to the United States next week.