Hawaiian ex-lawmaker goes from serving in Washington to Afghanistan vetting suspected Taliban (Excerpts)
by Kevin Freking and Treena Shapiro, Associated Press (This article was printed in 158 publications across the United States including the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Maui News.)
While other candidates for Congress have spent the past six months wooing voters and donors, former Rep. Charles Djou of Hawaii took a detour through Afghanistan where he was part of a team responsible for interrogating suspected Taliban fighters and determining who should be detained or freed….
Djou represents a rare instance when a former lawmaker went from the partisan skirmishes on Capitol Hill to the real battlefront. Djou, a major in the Army Reserves, returned recently from a stint in Afghanistan with what he described as a better perspective on what’s important in life and politics. He’ll apply that perspective on the campaign trail as he attempts to persuade voters in Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District to send him back to Washington….
“I recognize that the war on terrorists is not as hot an issue as it was in 2010 and certainly 2008, but I do have a unique perspective and I do think it’s important,” Djou said in his first interview since his return. “I have a unique vantage point in explaining to the American people not to forget about those soldiers in harm’s way.”
Djou was deployed in the latter stages of the military’s buildup in Afghanistan. While those in the National Guard frequently are deployed as a unit, Djou — as a reservist — was plucked to fill an individual position within the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan.
The unit is based in the Kandahar province in Afghanistan, a particularly dangerous province where the Taliban and the opium trade are at their strongest. While Afghan forces have taken charge of security in wide swaths of northern and western Afghanistan, southern Afghanistan is still volatile territory.
When troops encountered suspected Taliban fighters, it was Djou’s responsibility to vet suspects and determine whether they were a threat to U.S. forces. He estimated that he dealt with more than 100 detainees. Decisions were often difficult….
At times, Djou participated in patrols. A convoy he was in came under fire in November, and Djou said an insurgent tried to shoot him in the back but missed. Djou was awarded the Combat Action Badge after the skirmish.
Djou returned to the United States amid rising tensions stemming from the burning of Qurans by U.S. soldiers. He said he supported Obama’s proposal for the Afghan people to be in charge of their own security by the end of 2014, but he’s nervous that the tensions will speed the drawdown. If the drawdown is severe, the U.S. should just bring the troops home immediately.
“I’m worried we’ll resort to a halfway strategy that is not enough to win but only enough to lead to more American casualties,” Djou said.
Djou said that when he talked to Afghan villagers, he got the impression they understood what was at stake if the Taliban resumed control. But they’re caught in a quandary, he said. By siding against the Taliban, they risk losing everything when U.S. forces leave. Still, he’s not advocating maintaining troops there beyond 2014.
“We’re crushing the Taliban, but we can’t just crush them,” Djou said. “We have to afford time to make sure that the schools we built are successful, that the community centers and police stations aren’t just put in place but are developed and get solid roots in the community.”
read … Hawaii ex-lawmaker Djou serves Afghanistan stint