ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Sen. Rob Portman returned to Washington on Monday after spending six days in the Middle East, meeting with government leaders and observing U.S. troops in the field.
"A common theme that I heard was that the political deadlines set by Washington - and the mandates for troop levels - are driving decisions better than conditions on the ground," said Portman, R-Ohio. "That concerns me."
The military will send 23,000 troops home from Afghanistan by the end of September, and combat operations there are to cease by May 14, he said. All troops are set to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Portman conducted a teleconference from Dubai with reporters Monday before returning to the United States.
Some political pundits consider Portman likely to be named the vice presidential running mate of presumed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Portman denied Monday that he made the trip in preparation for being named to the ticket. The first four days of his trip included private meetings scheduled with leaders in the Middle East. He did not meet with two other members of Congress for a trip into Afghanistan until Saturday.
Portman departed Washington May 29 and arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Wednesday, his office said. Portman met with the mayor of Jerusalem Wednesday before returning to Tel Aviv. On Thursday, he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He also toured the country's "Iron Dome" missile defense system, designed to counter missiles and rockets launched into Israel by neighboring Islamic countries.
On Friday, Portman traveled to Jordan to speak with leaders. On Saturday, he went to the UAE and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi.
Later in the day, Portman was joined in the UAE by Rep. David Drier, R-Calif., and David Price, D-N.C., for a trip into Afghanistan.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also was to be part of the delegation, but extreme weather kept him at home.
Manchin's flight was canceled after lightning struck his plane as it sat on the tarmac. There was no one on board at the time.
"Sen. Manchin was not on the flight, but he hopes to travel with Sen. Portman in the future and believes it's critical to understand what's happening on the ground in countries where the U.S. military or contractors are deployed," said Marni Goldberg, spokeswoman for Manchin.
Portman said he and Manchin share an interest in learning more about the workings of U.S. special operations troops in the field. In Afghanistan Monday, Portman said the delegation received a demonstration from U.S. troops regarding how they deal with roadside bombs.