Rep. Ellison: ‘I Am Skeptical Of The Troop Escalation In Afghanistan’

Roll Call reports today that “anti-war Democrats have been largely mum on President Barack Obama’s recently unveiled policy for Afghanistan — partly because leading liberals don’t yet know where they stand.”

But Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress, is clear about his position on the issue. Yesterday, Thinkprogress interviewed Ellison and asked where he stands on President Obama’s plan to send 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Afghans have “seen a lot of foreign powers come to their country — whether it’s the Soviets, the Brits, and now the Americans — and I think they want to see their country finally have peace,” Ellison replied. Ellison told ThinkProgress that he is “skeptical” of the troop increase:

I am skeptical of the troop escalation in Afghanistan. I have my doubts about whether that’s what’s needed. But if troop escalations is what’s going to happen, and if it may in fact be the right thing, the real question is, what are they going to be doing? If they’re just going to be taking it to the “enemy,” I am confident that it will be a failed effort. And I don’t say that with any relish. … The best course of action, I think, is to have an increase in civilian efforts to improve the lot of the average Afghan, with a clear goal to move things into the Afghans as fast as possible.

“We should be trying to exit Afghanistan, too,” he emphasized. “I don’t think we should have any long term plans there either.” Ellison said the U.S. should work to develop agriculture and provide basic security in the area. Watch it:

Ellison was also critical of Obama’s policy of launching “Predator strikes” — or bombing suspected terrorists through remote-piloted aircraft — in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The attacks regularly inadvertendly kill civilians and are deeply unpopular among the public. Ellison said the strikes inflame anti-American sentiment:

I think Predator strikes have not contributed positively. We’ve just heard so many bad things about them. They must really be killing the American image in the mind of the average Afghan. … I think that you need a human being to go see whether or not the strike is actually targeted at a true hostile enemy, rather than a wedding party — which has happened all too often.

“So really, it’s like you cut one head off, and three pop up,” Ellison said of the Predator strikes’ effect on terrorism.