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U.S. Senator Jim Talent of Missouri plans to visit combat zones in Iraq before the end of the year. No specific date has been set yet. KSMU's Missy Shelton spoke with Talent about his plans to visit U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Shelton: Why are you making this trip?
Talent: I just thought this was an excellent time to go. We have the elections coming up, we're clearing out the Suni Triangle. I want to see how the Iraqi troops are doing, how their training is going. Now that Arafat has died, it's a key time in the Israeli-Palestinian process and so I have a chance to see some people and talk to them about that. I thought it was a good time to go and talk to people on the ground.
Shelton: Who's arranging this trip for you?
Talent: Whenever you do something like this, the Pentagon arranging the trip and details. It's a typical thing for Congressman and Senators to travel to combat theatres especially when they serve on the Armed Services Committee because it is valuable to hear from the people who are there. This is not uncommon and it's always arranged by the Pentagon because you have to comply with the security rules.
Shelton: A lot of people have their own thoughts about how this war is going. Are you making this trip to with an open mind, to gather facts?
Talent: Definitely. I have expectations because I talk not just with the higher-ups but with returning soldiers. I ask them how the mission is going. My sense is it's going very well that the elections are going to go off. We're stabilizing the country. I'd be surprised to hear something contradictory to that. What I need to know is if they're getting the body armour we paid for, what conditions are the troops living in? There's a lot of ground you can cover in a trip like this.
Shelton: One of the issues I'm hearing about is extended deployments for men and women in the National Guard. Have you heard that concern as well and are you thinking about it as you make this trip?
Talent: I'm definitely hearing that. I just left Kansas City and a lady talked to me about her son who is in Afghanistan. She's concerned about him getting food, etc. I also hear about extended deployments. That's an issue...As I've thought for years, the active duty army isn't big enough and they don't have enough resources. We end up having to extend the deployment for the Guard and Reserve which is not a good thing to do.
Shelton: Back to your trip. What cities will you visit?
Talent: It hasn't all been tied down but I want to go into theatre, into Baghdad. I don't know what they're going to say from a security standpoint. But I want to talk to people in theatre so I'll push as hard as I can to do that and we'll see what the generals on the ground think the security situation is. And one thing I want to avoid...I don't want any of our troops to divert from their mission to protect me. I don't want to put them at risk.
Shelton: When you get back, give us a call and tell us what you saw.
Talent: I will.
Shelton: Thank you. I've been speaking with Senator Jim Talent about his upcoming trip to Iraq.