Gov. Bill Haslam traveled Wednesday to Afghanistan, where he dined with Tennessee soldiers and met with commanders of American forces in the war-torn country.
Haslam, who visited with troops in Iraq and Kuwait earlier this week, said in a telephone news conference that he asked about 25 Tennessee soldier at what messages they would want relayed to fellow Tennesseans.
At the top of the list, he said, was, “We really are making progress here and we see it in very concrete ways.”
Haslam said he agreed, despite the “tough, tough deal that we’re in the middle of.”
The U.S. Department of Defense is paying for the trip to Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan by Haslam and the governors of Kentucky, Utah and Nevada.
Asked if he thought the trip was intended to help build political support as President Obama moves to draw down troop strength and while the military faces the possibility of budget cutbacks, Haslam replied, “Perhaps… but as a governor, I won’t ever have a vote on that.”
The governor said he took a four-hour flight from Kuwait to Kabul, the Afghan capitol, where the governors were briefed by Gen. John Allen, commander of American forces in the country. From there they went to Kandahar, the southern command center, and then to Bagram, the eastern regional command. At each locale, there were briefings for the governors.
.”Every one those generals made clear how incredibly helpful is have the (National) Guard here,” said Haslam, who as governor is commander of Tennessee National Guardsmen.
At Bagram, Haslam said he had supper with Tennessee soldiers with homes “from Tri-Cities to Memphis and everywhere in between.” Among them, he said, were troops from “a civil affairs unit in Knoxville.”
A spokesman for Haslam said that 254 Tennessee guardsmen are now on duty in Afghanistan with another 216 mobilized but still in training to deploy later this year. Another 380 are stationed in Kraq and Kuwait and about 100 more have been assigned to various other parts of the Middle East, said spokesman David Smith.
Haslam said that guardsmen make up a total of about 20 percent of American forces in Afghanistan.