In Kabul, senator warns not to set a date for troops’ exit
KABUL — Sen. John McCain (RAriz.) warned Saturday that a calendar-based pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan as outlined by the Obama administration would be a serious mistake, emboldening the Taliban and allowing the country to once again become a stronghold for militants.
As part of his effort to end the longest war in U.S. history, Obama has announced plans to close the remaining U.S. bases in Afghanistan and reduce troop strength from 9,800 to 1,000 by the end of 2016.
“The most serious mistake the United States could make . . . will be to have a calendar-based withdrawal. That will be a tragedy,” McCain said in Kabul, adding that it opens the door “for the Taliban to gain great success in Afghanistan.”
McCain spoke at a news conference after holding discussions with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, whose government has been dealing with growing political and internal rivalries in the nearly 10 months since its creation.
On Saturday, Ghani’s second nomination for the Defense Ministry was rejected by the parliament.
On the battlefield, the news hasn’t been good, either, as the Taliban carry out unprecedented attacks. At least two dozen local police were killed Saturday after Taliban forces attacked their posts along a major highway, about 45 miles to the west of Kabul.
McCain says he backs Ghani’s request for a comprehensive intelligence assessment of conditions on the ground to determine the proper size and shape of U.S. troop presence after 2016.
He said the persistent Taliban attacks this summer — when there has traditionally been a drop in violence, particularly now, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan — are a sign that NATO and the United States need to keep between 5,000 and 6,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2016.
“The Taliban still has significant capabilities, and those capabilities can best be countered by continued U.S. military support, and without that the place is at risk,” he said. “That is why so many of us, and so many of the military leaders who have been in the leadership positions in Kabul, say that we should base our withdrawal on conditions.”
Sen. JohnMcCain (R-Ariz.) said this summer’s steady Taliban attacks signal the need to keep up to 6,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2016.