DAYTON, OH -- Responding to a question from the mother of an Army lieutenant serving in Afghanistan, Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama for failing to provide clarity on the United States mission there, and offered his own benchmark for when the US should withdraw its remaining forces from that country.
"How in the world can the commander in chief sleep at night, knowing that we have soldiers in harm’s way that don't know exactly, precisely, what it is that they're doing there," Romney wondered aloud Saturday before a crowd of more than 1,000 at a town hall event outside Dayton, Ohio.
Romney offered his most details comments on Afghanistan in months in response to a question from Vicki Chura, a mother from Dayton whose daughter is serving her second deployment with the 82nd Airborne at Bagram airbase.
"This deployment has been extremely hard not only for her, but for my husband and I," Chura said, emotion creeping into her voice as she asked what Romney would do to expedite bringing troops home. "Every email, every time we Skype, we hear ‘I want to come home now.’ There is no mission here. We have no definition of a mission."
Romney thanked Chura for her daughter's service, and for her family's sacrifice, and then proceeded to decry an unclear mission in America's ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.
"One of the things I've found most disturbing and hard to explain is how we can have our sons and daughters in conflict, risking their lives, and not have the president on a regular basis addressing the American people," Romney said. "Describing what's happening, describing what our mission is, describing what the goals will be, describing how much progress we're making or whether there were setbacks and informing the people of America that there are other Americans making enormous sacrifices for our purposes and for our liberty."
Romney offered his own narrow definition of the US mission in Afghanistan -- to prepare the Afghan military to defend the country itself, and to get out.
"[The] mission is to pass along to Afghanistan a security force there that is capable of maintaining the sovereignty of that nation such that we can get out and they can have the capacity to build their own nation," Romney said.
"We will not be able to hand on a silver platter their freedom. They will have to fight for that, earn it, keep the Taliban from taking it away from them," Romney said. "But we've given them that opportunity. We need to finish the job of passing it off to them, and bring our troops home as soon as humanly possible.”
Romney has staked out a hawkish position on foreign affairs, particularly in the Middle East. After the economy, it is the policy arena in which he most frequently takes on Obama.
In January he called the president's announcement of a timetable for a draw-down in Afghanistan "misguided and naive," and in December slammed him for failing to secure a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi Government.
This evening, the Obama campaign responded to Romney's criticism.
"Mitt Romney has no credibility to attack President Obama on Afghanistan. Under the president’s leadership, we are decimating al-Qaida and the Afghans are preparing to step up and take control of their security," Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith said in a statement. "Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has failed to outline any plan at all for what he would do in Afghanistan and has even made clear that he would leave our troops there indefinitely.”