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Coffman sees progress in Iraq, problems in Afghanistan

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By AJ Vicens

In the wake of U.S. troops moving out of Iraqi cities and transferring control to Iraqi security forces, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman says he sees the bulk of U.S. troops leaving Iraq by the end of next year.

"All in all, it's pretty good," the Aurora Republican, who represents the 6th Congressional District, said of the military progress being made in Iraq.

Coffman, who recently returned from a trip to Iraq, says the Iraqi security forces — military and police — have significant challenges to overcome.

"I think al Qaeda still has a hold in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city," Coffman said. "That's going to be a challenging fight for the Iraqi security forces, but I think they're up for it. There'll probably be an increase in violence for a little while as the security forces get their feet on the ground, but I think they can do it."

Coffman added that the situation is improving to the point where most troops can be out by the end of 2010, and he supports President Barack Obama's handling of the situation. Although the agreement calls for troops to leave the country by the end of 2011, the Obama administration has said that conditions may require some troops to stay in the country beyond that.

"The president is right not to have a fixed timetable," Coffman said. "But if we're asked to stay, the president has left the door open on that."

Coffman is much more pessimistic when discussing the additional U.S. troops headed to Afghanistan and the Afghan government’s deteriorating control over wide areas of the country.

"Unfortunately, we're gearing up in Afghanistan," Coffman said. "I think we're unfortunately going to see increases in casualties."

Coffman slammed Obama's handling of the country that was the original warfront after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"I'm very concerned that the administration is not doing adequate planning," Coffman said. "(Obama) has not been forthright with the American people about the true costs of war. It's the same mistake (George W.) Bush made in Iraq. It wasn't till the surge in 2007 that there were adequate forces in Iraq to provide enough security to let the political process move forward."

Coffman says the U.S. has 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, compared to the roughly 160,000 required in Iraq to militarily stabilize the country.

"(Afghanistan) is a larger country, bigger population, tougher terrain," Coffman said.

He said that, in Afghanistan, Obama is repeating Bush's "approach in Iraq of prior to 2007, not having adequate resources or planning, which caused unnecessary casualties as a result."

Coffman said he's asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates about the troop levels in Afghanistan and was told that an assessment will be done once the focus fully shifts back to Afghanistan.

"Why don't we do the assessment up front and make the determination up front what is appropriate?" Coffman said. "I don't think they've done that, and I think we're going to pay the same high price in Afghanistan until we put in the adequate number to reverse the situation we're in right now."

Coffman didn't have an answer on what the ideal number of troops should be, but said "68,000 certainly is not going to do it."

Coffman offered an amendment to the recent defense authorization bill that would require the government to study what troop level is needed to help local governments in Afghanistan gain control.

"I don't think the military is the only solution," Coffman said. "The role of the military is just to get a handle on things to get enough security to allow the political process to move forward. Eventually, it's only the political solution that can bring peace."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.