TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday during a trip to Afghanistan that success in American efforts to stabilize the region shouldn't be measured in troop withdrawals.
Rubio praised efforts to establish structured government in many areas and said progress is being made in training Afghan security and police forces, though he said there is still a long way to go.
"What we heard repeatedly, that it is important that the United States is committed to seeing it through, otherwise the Taliban and al-Qaida are just waiting for us to leave and come in," he said.
Rubio was with a group of Republican senators that included Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. The group also visited Pakistan. Rubio left for the region just a week after being sworn in.
The delegation met with Army Gen. David Petraeus, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir of Pakistan, and Pakistani Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
NATO sent 30,000 additional troops, mostly American, to Afghanistan last year to focus on fighting back the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Rubio said the effort is clearly working, with Taliban's momentum being thrown into reverse.
The U.S. now plans to begin withdrawing troops this summer, but there is concern that recent progress could be lost.
There is hesitancy among people to participate in government operations because they don't want to be punished if the United States leaves and the Taliban returns, Rubio said.
"They want to know that we're committed and we have to show that we're committed," Rubio said.
NATO has set a goal of having Afghan forces assuming full responsibility for security by 2014.
"There is a long way to go, there's no way to estimate how serious the challenge is, but we are headed in the right direction," Rubio said.