In Kabul, sen­a­tor warns not to set a date for troops’ exit

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY SAYED SALAHUD­DIN for­eign@wash­post.com

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.”

WAKIL KOHSAR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IM­AGES

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.

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