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No US ground forces in Syria, Donnelly vows

Donnelly

Syrian rebels do not want U.S. ground forces fighting in their nation’s civil war, Sen. Joe Donnelly said Monday.

Donnelly told reporters that he met last week with Syrian opposition leaders and families in a refugee camp in Turkey.

“They said, ‘Look, we don’t want American men and women on the ground.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s a good thing, because there won’t be American men and women on the ground.’ I don’t support that at all,” Donnelly said during a telephone conference call with reporters.

“They said, ‘All we want is the tools to create success here.’ And the other thing they said, repeatedly, in group after group, is that they are the moderates,” Donnelly said. “They said, ‘95 percent of us are moderates. We just want to have a decent life and take care of our families.’ ”

Donnelly, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led a five-member congressional delegation that visited Pakistan and Afghanistan in addition to the refugee camp along Turkey’s border with Syria.

He said he endorses U.S. involvement in Syria as part of an international coalition that might impose no-fly zones or supply certain weapons to rebels fighting President Bashar Assad’s troops.

But Donnelly said he and moderate Syrians are worried about militant al-Nusra rebels who are allied with al-Qaida terrorists.

“The al-Qaida-affiliated rebels seem to be getting a little bit stronger. … Each day changes the equation,” he said.

“One of the things we are aware of is that the al-Qaida-related rebels are very, very interested in getting their hands on the chemical weapons, and that is an extraordinarily dangerous situation.”

Donnelly made these observations about other parts of the delegation’s trip:

•The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan before 2015 appears to be on schedule.

“We keep handing more and more of Afghanistan to the Afghan people every day,” Donnelly said. “Across the board, we are shipping material home, men and women are coming home, and we have been able to hold territory.”

Donnelly said he met with military leaders as well as troops from Indiana during the delegation’s visit to Kabul and the Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

•Officials in Pakistan are well aware of U.S. concerns about Taliban fighters hiding in the country between attacks on Afghan targets.

“We are seeking better relations with Pakistan, making sure that Pakistan has better relations with Afghanistan, trying to seek closure of the borders,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly said the delegation left the U.S. on April 28 and returned Saturday night.

The group included Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Democratic Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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