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Kristen Daum, Published September 05 2009

Pomeroy: Afghanistan conditions worsening

North Dakota’s Democratic congressman on Friday said “reasonable benchmarks” need to be put in place to evaluate progress for the war in Afghanistan.

Earl Pomeroy returned Thursday from a bipartisan congressional trip overseas, which included two days in Afghanistan, and he warned that the United States is on its “last best chance” to keep public support for the war effort.

Pomeroy said the situation had visibly changed from trips he took in 2002 and 2007.

“The war in Afghanistan has never been more difficult or dangerous,” he said. “Al-Qaida and the Taliban are attacking more effectively and in more places.”

The Obama administration has made “meaningful changes” in military strategy in recent months, Pomeroy said, adding that it’s unknown what effect those changes will have in turning the tide of the war.

Meanwhile, the U.S. must regain the support and trust of the Afghan people, Pomeroy said.

“It’s their country. It’s going to take their primary, principled effort to turn this thing around,” he said.

Pomeroy also stressed that progress must be made, or the war will continue to lose vital support at home.

“I don’t believe it’s too late to win back the public support and confidence of the American people – but realistically, this is our last, best chance,” Pomeroy said. “The team that the president has put in place must deliver progress if support is going to be sustained in Congress.”

Pomeroy and five other congressmen also met with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who is expected to issue a recommendation on troop increases in the coming days.

“He made clear to us that the present training pace is not sufficient for purposes of getting more Afghans involved in the business of providing for their security,” Pomeroy said. “If there’s anything in his report that called for more assistance in getting this training operation shored up more thoroughly or quickly, it wouldn’t surprise me.”

Pomeroy said he doesn’t favor a strict timetable to withdraw troops, but said guidelines are needed to check progress in the war.

“We need clear benchmarks so we know we’re on the right path,” he said.

The six-day trip also included visits in Mali, Kenya and Djibouti with U.S. Special Forces operations, which are working against possible Al-Qaida cells in the politically fragile African nations.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541