MANCHESTER, N.H. – Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and his running mate Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan criticized President Obama Monday for his handling of the war in Afghanistan during a town hall-style event here that offered a rare opportunity during this campaign season to talk about the ongoing conflict.
Romney and Ryan reunited for the event at St. Anselm College after several days of campaigning separately. The two are splitting up again following the appearance as Romney heads to Louisiana and Ryan to Pennsylvania.
Like much of the campaign, the first two questions of the event were about balancing the budget and paying off the debt -- until Romney called on an elderly veteran who told the two candidates that his grandson was set to deploy to Afghanistan.
"I have a very pressing question to ask you," he said. "If you guys take over Washington, what are you going to do about this damn mess in Afghanistan?"
Romney, who has been critical of the president for not defining the mission of the war in Afghanistan, pledged to "communicate to the American people" about the cause and goals of any conflict while troops are in harm's way.
"I can tell you this, when I become commander in chief if I'm so lucky, I will address the American people about these issues," which Obama has not done, Romney said. "With regards to Afghanistan, I will do everything in my power to transition from our military to their military as soon as possible, bring our men and women home and do so in a way consistent with our mission, which is to keep Afghanistan from being overrun by a new entity that would allow Afghanistan to be a launching point for terror again like it was on 9/11."
Ryan noted he was in Afghanistan in December, and he criticized Obama for making decisions that were "more political in nature than military."
In May, Obama signed an agreement with allies that provides for the U.S. military to cease combat operations in Afghanistan in 2013, with the Afghan military taking over all security operations in the country by 2014.
"A draw-down occurring in the middle of a fighting season and we are still giving our military the same mission," Ryan said about the war. "We don't want to do something that would put them in jeopardy, we want them to fulfill the mission in the safest way possible. And that to me means, you make decisions based on what's right for the country, for our nation's security and let our men and women serving in our armed forces do their job in the safest way, period. End of story. Elections not withstanding."
The Romney campaign said over 3,000 people RSVP'd for the town hall.
Crowds began to file into the bleachers decorated with red, white and blue banners erected at one end of St. Anselm's quad hours before the event. A large "America's Comeback Team" sign draped down the front of the ivy-covered administrative building.