Welch headed to Iraq and Afghanistan

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(Host) Congressman Peter Welch leaves Washington today as part of a special congressional delegation that will visit Iraq and Afghanistan.

Welch says he’s going to Iraq to support Vermont troops serving in that country, and to listen to their concerns.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The exact time of the congressional delegation’s arrival in Iraq is a secret for security reasons but it’s likely that the group will be on the ground there by the middle of the week.

Welch says there are basically two reasons why he’s going to Iraq:

(Welch) “The first reason and the most important is that as a member of Congress I want to convey my support for the troops. I spoke with Adjutant General Dubie and I spoke to Governor Douglas after he came back and they impressed on me how much it did mean to our troops, who as we all know are working hard under very very tough conditions. Number two, I want to listen and I hope to be able to speak to every day soldiers and Iraqis and just hear what it is they have to say.”

(Kinzel) Welch is an outspoken critic of the Iraq War and is backing legislation to set a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

He says he has no plans to raise this issue with the Vermont troops unless they want to discuss it:

(Welch) “I’ll talk to the troops about anything that they want to talk about. But I won’t be asking soldiers what they think of the war. You shouldn’t do that. The soldiers are there following orders and whatever the commander in chief asks them to do they do. My questions of them will be: Do they have what they need? Are there things that we can do to help with supplies? And, what’s their day-to-day life like?”

(Kinzel) Welch readily acknowledges that it will be very difficult to gain a thorough understanding of the conditions in Iraq as part of a congressional delegation.

(Welch) “I have no illusion that you get a comprehensive exposure. It’s a limited exposure. I don’t have a sense by being on a congressional visit with the kind of security that will be available to congressional delegation that I suddenly become an expert on the war. I have too much respect for the troops to believe that.”

(Kinzel) Welch is expected to return to the United States by this weekend.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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