Sandoval: US must maintain presence in Afghanistan

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RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval says the U.S. must continue to maintain a presence in Afghanistan to ensure security and prevent the Taliban from regaining a foothold.

Sandoval, one of four U.S. governors who made a surprise weekend visit to Afghanistan, said Sunday it's important for the U.S. to play an advisory role after the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of the year.

The Republican governor, in a conference call with reporters from Kabul, said he's impressed by progress made since his last visit to Afghanistan in 2011 and he thinks Afghan government forces are "well positioned" to face insurgent attacks.

"(U.S. military commanders) have emphasized to me, 'We don't want to lose the gains we've made here in Afghanistan like we did in Iraq,'" Sandoval said.

"Although Afghanis have made significant progress in their sophistication and training, it's going to be important for the U.S. to provide that advisory position so they can continue to be successful," he added.

The country's new president, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who takes office on Monday, is expected to sign a security agreement that allows some 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after all combat troops are withdrawn.

Sandoval, along with governors Andrew Cuomo of New York, Bill Haslam of Tennessee and Jay Nixon of Missouri, were briefed by top U.S. commanders as well as by James Cunningham, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and Michael McKinley, the deputy ambassador.

The delegation traveled Saturday and Sunday to military facilities with officials from the U.S. Department of Defense, which sponsored the trip.

"It's important for governors to see for themselves the progress they've made in this country," Sandoval said. "This wasn't an effort by the White House ... to create a false impression on the people of the United States. It was a chance to get a first-hand look at what's going on and to see the gains. I've been incredibly impressed by what I've seen."

Sandoval also visited wounded soldiers at a hospital in Germany and talked with Nevada soldiers.

"There are a lot of takeaways from this trip," he said. "The biggest is the troops here away from their families and loved ones, and the sacrifices they've made to serve their country and to preserve the freedom we all enjoy."

More than 2,200 U.S. forces have died in Afghanistan operations since 2001. Nearly 20,000 have been wounded.

The delegation returns to the U.S. on Monday.

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