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Members of Congress made surprise trip to Kuwait, Afghanistan over Thanksgiving

California Representative Mark Takano speaks to service members assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7 during a visit to the California-Mexico border, Dec. 24, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Rubin J. Tan)

Dallas Rep. Colin Allred joined several other members of Congress in a Thanksgiving trip to Kuwait, where they served dinner to soldiers before heading to Afghanistan to meet with military leaders about the ongoing conflict with the Taliban.

They did not cross paths with President Donald Trump during his surprise visit to troops at Bagram Air Base on Thanksgiving.

The trip, led by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano of California, included Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, Rep. Haley Stevens of Michigan and Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois and ran from Nov. 25 to Dec. 1.

“We wanted to go and see firsthand what our active duty servicemen and women are facing so when they come off duty and are needing services from the Veterans Affairs agency that we’re able to actually get them what they need,” Allred, a freshman Democrat, said by phone on Monday. “I wanted to spend Thanksgiving with the troops because I wanted them to know that we care about them, we understand that they’re away from their families, and we wanted to show them how much support they have back home.”

Allred said the group visited wounded soldiers at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany before traveling to Kuwait and serving Thanksgiving meals to soldiers at military bases there. The lawmakers then flew to Kabul, and visited the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan and several military bases in the country, Allred said.

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The air quality in Afghanistan was of particular concern to Allred, who said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will need to be prepared to assist soldiers who have been breathing the air for an extended period. Allred said he wants to make sure the Department of Defense tracks air quality and toxic exposures so those records are available to the VA for future treatment.

“We’ve already seen some of the folks who have come back with long-term consequences as a result of this,” Allred said. “So we’re going to have to be prepared … so that we’re ready to care for them. Just being there for a couple days I could feel how poor the air quality was.”

Allred praised the military’s work in Afghanistan and said Trump would be on the right track by resuming peace talks with the Taliban. Trump made the surprise announcement that peace talks had resumed, and that the Taliban were open to a cease-fire, during his unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving.

Taliban and Afghan leaders voiced confusion at the remarks, saying a cease-fire was not under discussion. The Taliban said they were open to resuming talks, but their position had not changed since Trump abruptly ended negotiations in September after an attack on U.S. forces.

“We need to make sure that the [Afghan] government and the Taliban have their own direct negotiations because, in the end, it’s going to be about who is governing Afghanistan, and we can’t undercut the [Afghan] government,” Allred said. “We also have to make sure that we find a way to end the violence and reduce our military footprint there.”

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© 2019 The Dallas Morning News