LINCOLN – U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer said today that while she saw lots of progress during her recent trip to Afghanistan, she opposes the so-called “Zero Option” of withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan by 2014.
“I don’t believe at this point that that is realistic,” she said during a conference call with reporters today.
Rather than a complete pullout by 2014, Fischer supports a carefully managed drawdown of troops, with a residual force in place to help Afghans with training and limited counter-terror operations during the transition.
Fischer returned Tuesday from a six-day trip to the Middle East with a handful of senators on the armed services and foreign relations committees. She was not allowed to reveal her whereabouts until she left Afghanistan.
“Our sons did not even know where I was,” she said.
Fischer met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro in Israel. She said they talked about maintaining ties between the U.S. and Israel and the challenges Israel faces along its borders, as wells as Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran.
In Kabul, the contingent met with Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
“While there’s still a lot of work to be done in Afghanistan I was very impressed with the good work our troops have done,” Fischer said. “The nation is volatile, but conditions have improved.”
Fischer said she looks forward to seeing President Obama’s plan for transitioning from a combat role to advising and assisting Afghan forces.
“I share the desire to bring our troops home,” she said, but added, “We cannot afford to let that country become a safe haven for terrorists again.”
Fischer met with Nebraska soldiers during the trip, which included stops at U.S. bases at Camp Integrity and Camp Eggers.
Asked whether soldiers or military brass talked about the prospect of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel being the next defense secretary, Fischer said Hagel’s name never came up during her trip and she doesn’t believe it would’ve been proper to have discussed it.
Netanyahu did not bring up Hagel’s name either, she said. Hagel’s possible appointment has been a concern to some pro-Israel groups that don’t like some of Hagel’s past statements on Israel and Iran.
Fischer said she has a meeting scheduled with Hagel next Wednesday.
“Of course I’m looking forward to seeing him,” she said.
She said she wants to talk about things such as core beliefs, defense cuts and military readiness and is not leaning one way or the other on his confirmation.
“I believe in the process,” she said. “I look forward to having a conversation with Senator Hagel and following the legislative process of a confirmation hearing.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee (of which Fischer is a member) will begin hearings on Hagel’s nomination on Jan. 31.
As for the president’s pending gun control proposal, Fischer said she is a strong supporter of second amendment rights and doesn’t think guns are causing the violence in America. She said the culture of violence – including movies and video games — and mental health needs should be looked at, too.
“It’s an emotional response when people look at guns as the culprit,” she said. “I think it’s hard to support a comprehensive bill. We need to take a step by step approach.”
Fischer’s husband and three sons are hunters and she used to travel with them on hunting trips but is not a hunter herself.
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