Congressional candidate Wink Hartman said Friday that the U.S. should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and use the savings to fight illegal immigration.
In a question-and-answer session at the Republican Pachyderm Club, Hartman, a prominent businessman who is running in the 4th Congressional District, said he doesn't think the war with the resurgent Taliban is going well.
"I think I can make a good case for we are not prepared in any shape or form to win in Afghanistan today," he said.
"If we aren't willing, if this country isn't willing to go over and do it and do it right and get the job done, then we need to try another course of action," he said. "I think we need to come back to the borders, we need to come back and take care of ourselves."
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan under a harsh interpretation of Islamic law from 1996 until 2001 and provided haven to Al Qaida terrorists, including Osama bin Laden.
An invasion by U.S. troops toppled the Taliban government after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, but the Taliban has regrouped and seized control of a large portion of the country from the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
Pachyderm member Lynda Tyler asked Hartman, if elected, whether he would support increased funding for troops in Afghanistan.
"I would vote against it, because I would pull them out of Afghanistan in a timely fashion," Hartman replied. "We need to get back over here and do what's best for us right here."
That, he said, is immigration control.
"I really believe strongly in protecting our borders and having control of our borders," Hartman said. "That would be of great assistance in controlling the environment here, so we don't have to maybe spend billions of dollars over there (in Afghanistan), and obviously the life lost."
Hartman acknowledged that solving the nation's immigration situation will take time because of the number of undocumented people in the country now.
"We cannot pick up 11 million people and ship them back to wherever — obviously that's very unrealistic," he said.
"But what we can do is when they are stopped for a speeding ticket, they are found in the workplace, wherever they may be found, they should be sent back, yes. And we should work through the visa programs and the legal process to make sure we have control of these people."
Hartman's stance on immigration got no complaints from the Pachyderms, who are mostly conservatives.
But his stance on pulling troops out of Afghanistan to pay for it did raise some eyebrows.
Bob Aldrich, a former president of the club, said the Taliban's resurgence threatens the United States, Israel and other allies — and it has to be stopped.
"If we allow the Taliban to come back, they're going to hit us tenfold," he said. "I just don't believe we can pack up our bags and run and hide."
Aldrich said he believes the U.S. can win in Afghanistan, unlike the Russian Army that occupied the country in 1979, but withdrew in defeat after 10 years of war.
"The caliber of the U.S. military is second to none," Aldrich said.
Later Friday, Hartman issued a clarification about his statement by email.
"Our policy in Afghanistan should be to prevent the Taliban from retaking control of the country and providing a safe haven for terrorists," he said. "If the present administration does not want to commit the human resources needed to do that on the ground, then we should revise our policy to use Special Forces and airstrikes to keep the Taliban on the run. We should never put our soldiers in harm's way unless we are committed to winning the war."
The Pachyderm Club has been working its way through the long list of candidates for the GOP nomination in the 4th District race.
The next to speak will be small-business owner Jim Anderson on Oct. 16.
Others competing for the nomination include Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, and GOP National Committeeman Mike Pompeo.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Raj Goyle of Wichita and retired court services officer Robert Tillman are contending for the nomination.
The seat is being vacated by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, who is running for Senate against Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays.