Giannoulias: U.S. should leave Afghanistan quickly

Giannoulias: U.S. should leave Afghanistan quickly

URBANA – The United States needs to get out of Afghanistan "as quickly as possible," U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias said Tuesday after he, Sen. Dick Durbin and injured Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth met with local veterans and veterans' family members at the Urbana Free Library.

"I don't think anyone is happy with it," he said of the American presence in Afghanistan. "We need to as quickly as possible, do what we need to do and get out of there. Our focus needs to be on eradicating al-Qaida safe havens and making sure that there is stability in Pakistan."

Giannoulias, who polls say is neck and neck with Republican candidate Mark Kirk in the race to succeed Roland Burris in the Senate, added, "We don't have the resources to be there too much longer. We need to focus on our economy here back at home."

He said he would not establish a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops.

"I don't have a deadline. But again, we have some more pressing challenges here," he said. "You can talk about national security, talk about the strength of a nation. We need to be investing in infrastructure and education so that we can be a stronger nation long-term."

Duckworth, now an assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said she was campaigning in Illinois on behalf of Giannoulias on personal time.

"You're going to need senators in Washington who will demand accountability, not senators who will sit there and endorse whatever the popular opinion is at the time," Duckworth told a group of about 40 people. "You need someone who will fight for you, who will say let's take a look at this, call for investigations into some of these conditions."

One of the veterans at the session, Jason Wheeler, 39, of Champaign, was injured eight years ago in training at Fort Polk, La. In a wheelchair, he still suffers from a nerve condition that makes it feels as if his hands and legs "are on fire," he said.

"There's not the same help for the guys who were injured stateside," Wheeler said.

"This unfortunately is the result of dollars. It's money," Duckworth said. "I think that we as a nation would want to take care of all of our veterans. But it means that we're going to have be willing to get the folks in Washington to spend the dollars on all of our veterans. And as long as there aren't enough dollars, then they are force to prioritize veterans.

"And combat-connected, disabled veterans are the highest priority. That is why when you and I go to the VA they will take care of me first because I am combat-connected," noted Duckworth, who lost both of her legs when the helicopter she was co-piloting in Iraq in 2004 was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

"The difference is how did you get hurt. Unfortunately that's just the way that ... it's a bureaucracy that was put into place in previous administrations in order to prioritize veterans because they didn't spend enough to take care of everyone," Duckworth told Wheeler.

"But you are right. This is part of the change that has to happen."

Meanwhile, Durbin said he disagrees with polls and pundits that project Republicans gaining control of the House and possibly the Senate.

"Off-year elections usually cost the president's party," he said. "So naturally it's going to be a tough year, but I think at the end of it I think the Democrats will still be in the majority in both the House and the Senate."

Durbin also said he did not know in advance of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's announcement Tuesday that he would not run for re-election next year.

"I think he's done an extraordinary job," Durbin said. "Chicago is a great city. I'm so proud to represent it. So many people say they can't get over what a great city it is. It's no accident. It's good people, a long history of hard work, but good leadership too."