Ayotte shares stories of Afghanistan at GHS



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U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte introduces herself to Gilford High School social studies students last Thursday to speak about her experience in Afghanistan. Lauren Tiner. (click for larger version)
January 26, 2011
U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte stopped by Gilford High School last week to talk to socials studies students about her recent tour of Afghanistan.

GHS students from U.S. History, American Society, International Business, and Youth and Government, listened intently last Thursday as Ayotte described her travels and applauded U.S. troops.

Ayotte told students that she just arrived back from Afghanistan last Tuesday afternoon and admitted to suffering from minor jet lag.

"This is the first trip I have taken overseas as a U.S. Senator. We haven't even taken any votes yet," said Ayotte, who traveled abroad with several other senators. "I wanted to take a trip to see what was happening in Afghanistan firsthand. We spend a lot of money over there on the war."

Ayotte first flew from Washington to Kuwait, rather than flying directly into Pakistan for safety issues. In Kuwait, the senators met with the ambassador and their own troops and were also able to speak with Pakistan troops, trained by the U.S.

About 700 U.S. guardsmen were deployed in September and are set to return this September, but Ayotte said the war still has a few years to go. She said U.S. troops can't pull out until Pakistan can hold down its own security and prevent the Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists from torturing their civilians.

"We have been there at war for quite a while. The concern of why we are there relates to the fact that we don't want Afghanistan to be able to plot again, to harbor or facilitate terrorism," she said.

While the Taliban stemmed from Afghanistan, Ayotte said her visit to Pakistan was also relevant because now members of Al-Qaeda have also camped out in these areas.

"We had to take efforts in both places to root out Al-Qaeda. The U.S. has constantly asked Pakistan to stand up and root out terrorism areas in their own land," said Ayotte.

On the positive side, when senators sat down with Pakistan's parliament, both men and women represented their country. Unfortunately, when the senators traveled to Afghanistan to meet with their government, the representation and treatment of women was a much different story.

She noted that Pakistan is also struggling with hard economic times, similar to the U.S., and was confronted by the senators on the subject of passing a fair tax system for their civilians.

"We ask them about these things because it creates a problem for their security while U.S. forces are work closely with them," said Ayotte. "Terrorists are also crossing back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan, even after our troops succeed and push them back. They re-group to either country; this is why a relationship is important."

Ayotte said Pakistan is also a nuclear power, and while they have eyed India for a while, they now have deep concerns within their own country, and added that the U.S. would not be prepared if they did not own a nuclear weapon of its own.

When traveling from Pakistan to Kabul, Afghanistan, Ayotte said there was a drastic difference even from the view of the plane.

While winters are similar to New Hampshire in terms of snow, mountains and chilly weather, the air is dusty, and there are no trees in sight.

"The people are very poor and the air quality there is very tough. They burn anything they can in the winter to stay warm," said Ayotte. "The life expectancy is 43, which may sound old to you guys, but I'm 42. It makes you grateful to live in this country."

During their stay in Afghanistan, senators also met with U.S. General Petraeus, who also happens to own property in New Hampshire, and Ayotte explained his current "counter insurgency strategy." She said this strategy has shifted to work with the civilian people, that progress is being made, and that committed U.S. troops are looking for support from their country.

The senators also met with President Hamid Karzai and grilled him on several issues after a formal dinner.

"The Afghan people want freedom. They want what we want: a government that works, justice, and they want to know that a fair system is in place. As Americans, we are holding them accountable," said Ayotte. "They want a roof over their heads, something to eat, and something to do."

She explained that many people are still wavering; they do not wish to be ruled by the Taliban and would rather side with the U.S. in standing up for a fair government, yet at the same time, they fear that the Taliban will take their lives for doing so.

While conditions may not be prime Ayotte said that a year ago, she wouldn't have been able to walk down the streets of Kabul because of riots, and added that women especially were never seen outside their homes. Now a government is forming, and buildings and a school have been built, although girls in Afghanistan are still denied a proper education.

"The people in Afghanistan want to succeed and want security, but we won't be leaving in 2011. It will take a couple more years than that to secure and leave," said Ayotte.

Prior to Ayotte's arrival, Principal Ken Wiswell said he felt honored by her visit and believed his students would respond with relevant, thoughtful questions.

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