(Washington) -- Two KMAland congressional representatives believe the United States is making progress against terrorist groups in the Middle East.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst led a bipartisan delegation of congressional representatives on a trip to Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait to meet with the region's military and political leaders, plus local servicemen and women. Based on what she learned from the trip, Ernst tells KMA News optimism is "incredible" toward U.S. efforts, and training of Afghan and Iraqi soldiers into handling more military operations.

"They are seeing advancements," said Ernst. "And, when we see advancements--more Iraqis taking on responsibilities, more Afghan soldiers leading those actions on the ground--that means less American assistance necessary. So, if we can continue to see this trend moving ahead in the next couple of years, at some point we will be able to decrease our presence in these regions."

Ernst, a retired Iowa National Guard soldier, also expressed pride over the involvement of Iowa soldiers in the region. She gave one example of how Iowa troops are making a difference.

"Just for example, I was in Kandahar in Afghanistan with 35 of our Army National Guard soldiers that do Medivac evacuations with their helicopters," she said. "In the one-month period they had been there, they had already done two mass casualty evacuations. It's pretty significant for those units to do those type of operations. So, they are saving lives--literally saving lives--in Afghanistan."

Iowa Congressman David Young accompanied Ernst and other delegation members on the trip. Young says it was important for congressional members to assess the progress in the Middle East first hand.

"You can get all of your briefings in Washington, D.C. from folks in the Department of Defense," said Young, "or get your news on certain situations from the media--that's great. But, you really want to hear from the folks on the ground. That includes our troops and our generals. We want to assess the situation, see what the progress has been, and what the challenges are."

One of the continuing challenges facing U.S. forces involves the drug cartels sponsored by the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. The Van Meter Republican says the cartels are helping fund terrorist activities abroad.

"Sixty percent of the funding the Taliban receives comes from the opium, and the heroin trade," he said. "There's been some great efforts for heroin and poppy eradication and interdiction there, and striking their labs. The Afghanis are the ones who are leading the change, and the Talibans have become a narco-terrorist group. They're drug thugs."

Also making the trip were Michigan Senator Gary Peters, Pennsylvania Congressman Keith Rothfus and Virginia Congressman Rob Wittman.