Washington – Rep. Elizabeth Esty, in her second term representing the 5th congressional district, just returned from her first congressional delegation trip – to Afghanistan and Kuwait.
Esty, who does not serve on a committee of jurisdiction over defense or foreign policy, said she was invited to join the congressional delegation trip, or CODEL, by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., a high-ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Esty described Afghanistan as an extremely dangerous and unstable place, where the Taliban is in fierce combat with ISIS over control of the nation’s lucrative poppy fields. The poppies are used to make heroin.
There was also a deadly explosion outside the Russian Embassy in Kabul while the delegation was there. The lawmakers took off on Jan. 19 and returned on Jan. 24.
But Esty said the long U.S. presence in Afghanistan has borne fruit.
“I did come away with the impression that there is real progress,” she said. Esty said the trip will help her when Congress debates the next defense bill.
“I want to get as much information as I can to make wise choices,” she said.
Despite heavy U.S. involvement in the Middle East, Esty did not think Congress will take up a bill authorizing the use of military force (AUMF) as President Obama asked in his State of the Union speech earlier this month.
“I am enough of a realist to know that would not happen in a presidential (election) year,” Esty said.
Obama says his administration’s military operations are sanctioned by two AUMFs, one approved by Congress in 2001 to fight al-Qaida in Afghanistan and another passed in 2002 that authorized the use of force to destroy weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
But many say they do not authorize the operations in Syria and other places the United States has launched attacks against ISIS.
Obama wants Congress to clarify that.
But there are sharp differences, based largely along party lines, on how much authority Obama shoud have to wage war. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urges it be well defined and limited.
Meanwhile, GOP leaders in the Senate will soon bring up a bill that would give the president broad authority, with no expiration date or prohibition on the use of ground troops.
Esty said she has not decided “what the contours” of a new AUMF would be. But she says the nation needs one.
“It is really unfair to our troops to have them serving without the backing of the American people,” she said.
Reps. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and Julia Brownley, D-Calif., joined Esty and Kline on the CODEL.