McCain urges Afghanistan plan

Se­na­tor as­serts pres­i­dent lacks war strat­egy, leav­ing Amer­ica ‘adrift’

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - RICHARD LARD­NER

WASH­ING­TON — In a re­buke of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., de­clared Thurs­day that “Amer­ica is adrift in Afghanistan” as he pro­moted a war strat­egy that would ex­pand the U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­fort and pro­vide greater sup­port to Afghan se­cu­rity forces.

McCain, chair­man of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said the U.S. needs to put strict con­di­tions on con­tin­ued as­sis­tance to Afghanistan and re­quire the Kabul gov­ern­ment to demon­strate “mea­sur­able progress” in curb­ing cor­rup­tion, strength­en­ing the rule of law and im­prov­ing fi­nan­cial trans­parency.

“Nearly seven months into Pres­i­dent Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, we’ve had no strat­egy at all as con­di­tions on the ground have steadily wors­ened,” said McCain, a lead­ing voice in Congress on na­tional se­cu­rity mat­ters. “The thousands of Amer­i­cans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan de­serve bet­ter from their com­man­der in chief.”

McCain said: “We are los­ing in Afghanistan, and time is of the essence if we in­tend to turn the tide.”

The law­maker said he’ll seek a vote on his “strat­egy for suc­cess” in Afghanistan when the Se­nate re­turns in Septem­ber and takes up the an­nual de­fense pol­icy bill.

His plan calls for send­ing in more U.S. com­bat forces, al­though he doesn’t say how many. But McCain wants them to be less con­strained in car­ry­ing out mis­sions against the Tal­iban, al-Qaida, a grow­ing Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate and other ex­trem­ists.

The plan, McCain said, is to “deny, dis­rupt, de­grade and de­stroy the abil­ity of ter­ror­ist groups to con­duct at­tacks against the United States, its al­lies, or its core in­ter­ests.”

Frus­trated by his op­tions, Trump has with­held ap­proval of a long-de­layed strat­egy as he searches for a plan that will end the stale­mate and al­low U.S. forces to pull out of Amer­ica’s long­est war. It’s been nearly 16 years since the United States in­vaded the then-Tal­iban-ruled coun­try in re­sponse to the al-Qaida at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The United States has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. Trump has so far re­sisted the Pen­tagon’s rec­om­men­da­tions to send al­most 4,000 more to ex­pand train­ing of Afghan mil­i­tary forces and bol­ster U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions. The de­ploy­ment has been held up amid broader strat­egy ques­tions, in­clud­ing how to en­gage re­gional pow­ers in an ef­fort to sta­bi­lize Afghanistan.

These pow­ers in­clude U.S. friends and foes, from Pak­istan and In­dia to China, Rus­sia and Iran. Pen­tagon plans aren’t call­ing for a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from the lim­ited ap­proach en­dorsed by former Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, and sev­eral of­fi­cials have cred­ited Trump with rightly ask­ing tough ques­tions, such as how the pre­scribed ap­proach might lead to suc­cess.

McCain, how­ever, has grown in­creas­ingly im­pa­tient. Dur­ing a com­mit­tee hear­ing in June, he told De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis that he had been con­fi­dent the ad­min­is­tra­tion would de­liver a plan for Afghanistan within a month or two af­ter tak­ing of­fice.

“So all I can tell you is that un­less we get a strat­egy from you, you’re go­ing to get a strat­egy from us,” McCain said at the time.

Mat­tis said he un­der­stood the ur­gency and ac­knowl­edged, “We are not win­ning in Afghanistan right now.”

The amend­ment McCain plans to pro­pose adding to the de­fense pol­icy bill calls for a “long-term, open-ended” U.S.-Afghanistan part­ner­ship that in­cludes an “en­dur­ing U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism pres­ence.”

He also rec­om­mends ex­pand­ing U.S. train­ing as­sis­tance to the Afghan se­cu­rity forces so they can ca­pa­bly fight the Tal­iban and other mil­i­tant groups. McCain pro­poses longer-term sup­port that will al­low the Afghans to de­velop and ex­pand their own in­tel­li­gence, lo­gis­tics, special forces and air­lift op­er­a­tions.

McCain’s ap­proach en­vi­sions bet­ter har­ness­ing U.S. mil­i­tary and civil strengths in pur­suit of a ne­go­ti­ated peace process that leads to Afghan po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and even­tual diplo­matic res­o­lu­tion to the war.

He also pro­poses to pun­ish neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan with grad­u­ated diplo­matic, mil­i­tary and eco­nomic costs “as long as it con­tin­ues to pro­vide sup­port and sanc­tu­ary to ter­ror­ist and in­sur­gent groups, in­clud­ing the Tal­iban and the Haqqani net­work.”

Among the Tal­iban’s fac­tions, the strong­est is the Haqqani net­work, which has deep ties to Pak­istan and its in­tel­li­gence agency. The re­la­tion­ship dates to the 1980s Afghan war against the Soviet Union, which had sent in more than 100,000 sol­diers to sup­port the pro-com­mu­nist Afghan gov­ern­ment.

“Nearly seven months into Pres­i­dent Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, we’ve had no strat­egy at all as con­di­tions on the ground have steadily wors­ened.” — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.


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