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COL We must rebuild Afghanistan

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By Sen. Mark Dayton

Before Sept. 11, I had seldom heard about countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, which are 8,000 miles and 11 time zones from Minnesota. Since then, I have seldom not heard about them, and events there no longer seem remote.

So when I was invited to join a bipartisan congressional delegation visiting these distant countries last month, I quickly accepted. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I wanted to see firsthand our military operations. I also wanted to better understand a region which directly affects our national security

It was quite an adventure. In Afghanistan, we drove along a two-lane road, pockmarked by potholes and bomb craters. We saw a land ravaged by three years of drought and three months of war. In the Afghanistan capital of Kabul, most people looked terribly weary and poor. Their homes and shops were one-story huts without windows or even doors, and many were damaged or destroyed.

I have never before witnessed such desolation and devastation.

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During a meeting with the leaders of Afghanistan's interim government, we heard how urgent the situation is.

Chairman Hamid Karzai and his ministers told us that the country's educational system, health care, law enforcement, and other public services were in ruins. Roads, bridges, and other infrastructure needed huge repairs. The departing Taliban had looted the national treasury, leaving the new leaders with no money for any of these desperate needs.

We were told that, without immediate financial assistance, Afghanistan's new government would soon collapse, leading to either anarchy or another extremist regime like the Taliban.

Fortunately, right after our group's return, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the United States would provide $289 million as part of a $4.5 billion international aid package to begin the rebuilding process. I will do all I can to help move that commitment through Congress as quickly as possible.

From this trip, I am even more convinced that our help to rebuild Afghanistan is not only in their best interest, but also in our national interest. By showing them the benefits of our economic systems and our way of life, and by helping them to achieve these benefits, we can best counteract the extremists who preach our destruction.

By improving their lives, we may save our own.

Mark Dayton of Minnesota is a U.S. Senator.

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