Maine delegation mixed on troop surge plan

Posted Dec. 01, 2009, at 10:48 p.m.

WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama stood in front of cadets at West Point Military Academy in New York Tuesday night and announced that 30,000 more troops would be deployed to Afghanistan, he acknowledged that the move would not be universally popular. He said in his speech that the debate over the Iraq war — and by extension, the war in Afghanistan — has drawn the “dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy and our national attention.”

The “wrenching debate” will continue in the aftermath of the president’s address, even among members of Maine’s congressional delegation.

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has traveled to Afghanistan four times, and said in a statement that she continues “to have questions about the impact of deploying more American combat troops to Afghanistan.”

She said that a surge in American troops would have to be met with a surge in Afghan troops.

“The situation [in Afghanistan] has worsened significantly,” she said. “I found American troops carrying the bulk of the military burden, valiantly and courageously, but often with too few Afghans by their side.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, also has seen the situation in Afghanistan firsthand, and agreed that more Afghan troops should participate, as well as NATO forces. She also said in a statement that equipment likely would need to be updated before the troops are deployed.

“There is no question that when we send our brave men and women in uniform in harm’s way, we must ensure that they are fully equipped and supported with the resources they require,” she said.

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said in a statement that while he “unequivocally supports” Obama’s goal of defeating al-Qaida, he would reserve final judgment until more details, such as the cost increase involved and how many allied troops would join the American surge, emerge.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said in an interview after the speech that as it stands, she would vote against funding the troop increase.

“I don’t agree with [Obama] that we should increase the number of troops before we decrease,” she said. “I want to see a legitimate debate about beginning to draw down the troops and talk about what is a reasonable amount of support in Afghanistan, and shift debate from increasing troops to what we need to get done, and our security in general.”

Like the other Maine members of Congress, Pingree also cited concern over the cost of continued combat.

“I think every day of people in Maine who are out of work,” Pingree said. “I think of just the tremendous variety of needs in our country.”

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