Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday that he is in Afghanistan this week to gain information to bolster New York's anti-terrorism effort and help boost morale.
"I am doing my job as governor of New York," he said from Afghanistan in a conference call with reporters. "That's exactly what this is about. . . . You want to be the best governor you can be . . . and that's what I'm doing. . . . There is no other good reason to be here, right?"
Cuomo declared the Afghanistan military action a "success all across the board."
"You can say we accomplished what we set out to accomplish," Cuomo, a Democrat running for re-election in November, said. "But along the way, the problem has . . . metastasized the last 13 years."
Asked by a reporter if the trip signaled his plans for a White House run in 2016, Cuomo said the trip had nothing to do with a possible future presidential bid.
He had left New York on Friday for the trip to meet with federal officials, generals, wounded soldiers and New Yorkers from the Army's 10th Mountain Division and National Guard units. Cuomo said he will return Tuesday.
Cuomo is running against Republican Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive. Cuomo had a 29-point lead over Astorino in a poll released last week by the Siena College Research Institute, but he continued a slide in favorability and job performance rating to his lowest levels.
Astorino, speaking to reporters Sunday after addressing a gun-rights conference at a Hauppauge hotel, resisted criticizing Cuomo's trip to Afghanistan. "He can do what he wants," said Astorino. "Everything this governor does is through the prism of politics, especially right now."
About 270 members of the New York National Guard are in Afghanistan, mostly from the Hudson Valley and New York City.
About 900 members of the 10th Mountain Division from upstate Fort Drum are also stationed there.
Cuomo said he will be in Afghanistan when its new president, Ghani Ahmadzai, is inaugurated Monday.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, more than 2,200 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan and nearly 20,000 have been wounded.
Cuomo said the Islamic State is a "virulent strain of terrorist activity and culture."
"New York is at the top of everybody's threat risk and we have spent a lot of time and we will spend a lot of time on homeland security," Cuomo said. "My goal is to have the most sophisticated homeland security system ever designed by any state. Period."
Cuomo had traveled to Israel in mid-August in what he called a mission to express New York's support of the war-torn country. That trip was paid for by his campaign. Cuomo said his Afghanistan trip was at the invitation of the U.S. Department of Defense, which paid for the trip. He traveled with Govs. William E. Haslam (R-Tennessee), Jay Nixon (D-Missouri), and Brian E. Sandoval (R-Nevada).
With Nicole Fuller