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Warning 'Time is of the Essence,' McCain Unveils an Afghanistan Strategy

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks during the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), frustrated by no new Afghanistan strategy from the Trump administration yet and warning that “time is of the essence if we intend to turn the tide,” today released his own strategy for the 16-year conflict.

McCain, who is undergoing brain cancer treatment in Arizona, said he submitted his strategy as an amendment to the defense reauthorization bill.

“The goal of this strategy is to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a sanctuary for terrorists to plot and conduct attacks against America, our allies, or our interests. To accomplish this goal, we need an integrated civil-military approach to bolster U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, strengthen the capability and capacity of the Afghan government and security forces, and intensify diplomatic efforts to facilitate a negotiated peace process in Afghanistan in cooperation with regional partners,” McCain wrote in a Medium post.

“America’s Armed Forces in harm’s way in Afghanistan deserve leadership from Washington worthy of their service and sacrifice. Adopting a clear policy and strategy in Afghanistan, backed with the authorities and resources necessary for success, would be a critical step toward restoring that kind of leadership, which has been absent for far too long.”

McCain proposed an “integrated civil-military strategy” that prevents Afghanistan from turning into a terrorist base or a Taliban-ruled state again. While the current targeting authority for U.S. troops in Afghanistan doesn’t include striking the Taliban, even though the group is still killing U.S. service members, McCain says the al-Qaeda ally — along with the Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other terrorist groups — must be targeted. The U.S. should also increase the number of counterterrorism forces in the country, he argues, with a “long-term, open-ended counterterrorism partnership” between the U.S. and Afghanistan and “an enduring U.S. counterterrorism presence” in the country.

He proposes improving the capability of the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces by “establishing U.S. military training and advisory teams at the kandak-level of each Afghan corps and significantly increasing the availability of U.S. airpower and other critical combat enablers to support ANSDF operations” and “providing sustained support to the ANSDF as it develops and expands its own key enabling capabilities, including intelligence, logistics, special forces, air lift, and close air support.”

The plan entails “strictly conditioning further U.S. military, economic, and governance assistance programs” on measurable progress and “imposing graduated diplomatic, military, and economic costs on Pakistan as long as it continues to provide support and sanctuary to terrorist and insurgent groups.”

After a national security briefing today at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., President Trump said his administration is “getting close” to deciding on an Afghanistan strategy.

“We’re getting very close. It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess. And we’re going to make it a lot less messy… And frankly, it’s — it’s going to be a decision that’s going to be made very soon,” he said.