- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

DENVER (AP) - Colorado Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jon Keyser on Thursday defended combat service in Iraq that earned him a Bronze Star Medal - service he repeatedly cites to bolster his national security credentials - after fellow candidate Darryl Glenn questioned his military record.

Keyser urged the tea party-aligned Senate Conservatives Fund to withdraw its endorsement of Glenn in the June 28 GOP primary to determine who will challenge Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet this fall. The fund has contributed nearly $63,000 to Glenn, an El Paso County commissioner, and stood by its endorsement Thursday.

Keyser often cites his experience as an Air Force intelligence officer who participated in missions against al-Qaida and Iranian-backed insurgents in 2006 and 2007. He’s used it to criticize Bennet’s support for the Iran nuclear weapons deal negotiated by President Barack Obama’s administration.

“I’ve looked them in the eyes, and they’ve killed my friends,” Keyser said earlier this week.

Glenn, who has 21 years’ combined active and reserve Air Force experience, asked Keyser at a debate Wednesday what earned him the Bronze Star, suggesting Keyser may have played a backup role as an intelligence officer.

“What I did was I went out with a very small special operations team and we would find the world’s most dangerous terrorists, typically at night, using the tactical advantages that we would have, usually night vision goggles, and we would apprehend them or kill them,” Keyser replied.

His campaign released service records Thursday, including a Bronze Star citation that noted Keyser participated in missions that captured or killed 107 “high-value enemy individuals.”

Keyser recounted the record in an interview with The Associated Press and said he’d fired his weapon on patrol. He declined to elaborate on that or specific intelligence missions, citing security reasons.

“The Iranian regime was pouring fighters into Iraq,” he said. “These were people who were either ethnic cleansing or who had killed or were planning to kill.”

Glenn defended his question, saying voters deserved details. And he criticized Keyser “for insinuating that because I did not serve in combat, that somehow makes me disqualified.”

“I felt it was necessary to give Mr. Keyser an opportunity to clearly state what his record is,” Glenn said. “My main point is, as a senator, your constituents expect you to ask a tough question.”

Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said Glenn’s endorsement stands. He noted Glenn is the only candidate voted to the primary at the state GOP convention, and his competitors petitioned their way.

“Jon Keyser thought our endorsement was credible enough for him to seek it out, but we decided to support Darryl Glenn because he’s the true conservative in the race,” Cuccinelli said in a statement.

With mail ballots sent to voters this week, the five GOP contenders are engaged in an increasingly heated race. Also running are businessmen Jack Blaha of Colorado Springs, Ryan Frazier of Aurora and Jack Graham of Fort Collins.

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James Anderson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jandersonap

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