They’re two contrasting nations.

Afghanistan, says U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, is progressing. Iraq borders on chaos.

Collins, R-Maine, concluded a Senate delegation visit to Iraq and Kuwait on Tuesday. By 10 minutes after midnight today – Afghanistan time – she was briefing the Sun Journal by satellite telephone from Kabul on some of what she’s seen.

“I’m struck by the enormous progress made since when I was here three years ago,” she said of Afghanistan.

Back then, she recalled, she flew into a tightly guarded military air base, stayed on the base grounds for her entire visit, and interim President Hamid Karzai was forced to meet with senators in an army tent next to an aircraft hangar there.

“The schools still had not opened to girls,” she added.

Now, she continued, “We flew right into the Kabul airport, drove into the capital and had lunch with President Karzai.

“Schools are open all over the country, and 20 percent of the university students are women.”

And, Collins said, everywhere she goes in Afghanistan she sees people who show they’re “grateful to our troops.”

“‘Thank you America,'” they say, Collins noted. “It is very heartwarming.”

While Afghanistan “still has a long way to go,” she said, it’s well advanced from where it was.

“By contrast, the situation in Iraq is much less certain,” Collins said.

While she called Iraq’s people “courageous” and the recent election “a turning point,” Collins also said Iraq’s anti-American and anti-government insurgents “are tough and determined and ruthless.”

In visiting Iraq, she said, she found the nation a fortress, a place much more dangerous than it was a year earlier.

Her time in Baghdad was limited to the Green Zone surrounding the U.S. Embassy. While Collins managed to visit “success stories” in Fallujah and Kirkuk, “progress is much more difficult in Iraq,” she said.

“Insurgents are still creating misery and determined to kill as many Iraqi and American people as possible,” said Collins.

She added that she’s “hopeful peace and democracy will prevail” but expects it will be a long time before that hope is realized.

The key to that, she said, is to train and equip Iraqi police and military forces “so that ultimately they can be responsible for the security of their own country.”

From Afghanistan she and four other senators on the fact-finding trip will visit Pakistan before heading back to the United States later this week.


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