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updated: 1/17/2010 9:23 PM

Kirk: In Afghanistan for 4 more years

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  • U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk

    U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer


Fresh from a serving in Afghanistan, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk said he supports President Barack Obama's troop surge there but expects the mission to last as long as four more years.

Obama has said he plans to start drawing down the troop level in 2011, but Kirk argues that likely won't happen until the following year.

"A sudden withdrawal would mean that in the middle of a re-election campaign, you could see the fall of Kandahar," Kirk said of the Afghanistan capital. "That will hurt his re-election."

Kirk is running for Senate in a six-way Republican primary. His comments came during a Daily Herald editorial board interview Thursday. He was serving in Afghanistan as a Naval Reserve officer from Dec. 20 until Tuesday. The five-term congressman from Highland Park made a similar tour last year.

Kirk said he supports bringing in 30,000 more troops because it is essential to eradicating Al-Qaeda terrorists from the war-torn country.

"We have a tremendous amount of power now coming in," said Kirk.

But, he argued, it will take four years to train enough Afghanistan troops and police to keep the country stable for an exit. U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since 2001 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Kirk declined to cast a final decision on whether he thinks the Obama administration is adequately addressing the failed Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound international flight. Obama has said clear red flags were missed and the bombing attempt should have been caught beforehand. He issued directives Thursday afternoon calling for better intelligence sharing and a more thorough review of the near disaster.

Kirk said the various intelligence gathering agencies need to do a better job sharing information.

"Knowledge is power, and they all restrict it to retain their own power," he said of the different bureaucracies.

Meanwhile, Kirk also addressed criticism he has faced from elements of his party upset with his social positions that align with Democrats, including his advocation for gun control legislation and support of legalized abortion.

"I offer the best opportunity to actually win," he said of the upcoming general election for the Senate seat in state dominated by Democrats.

Kirk also addressed a radio ad run by opponent Andy Martin, a perennial candidate and Chicago blogger, that implied he is gay. Kirk said he is not gay and added that he was "fighting for (Martin's) right" to run that ad while serving in Afghanistan.

"It is particularly ironic when (those rights) are used in this way," he said.

The other candidates in the Senate Republican primary are Hinsdale real estate developer Patrick Hughes, Springfield activist Kathleen Thomas, former Harvey Alderman John Arrington and downstate retired judge Don Lowery of Golconda.