McCain unveils 'strategy for success' in Afghanistan

Senator frustrated by Donald Trump's delay in approving Pentagon's plans to end conflict

FILE - In this July 27, 2017 file photo, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. McCain is proposing a new “strategy for success” in Afghanistan. He’s calling for increasing the number of U.S. counterterrorism forces and giving them a freer hand to target the Taliban, Islamic State and other terrorist groups.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
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In a rebuke of US president Donald Trump, senator John McCain on Thursday unveiled his own strategy for the war in Afghanistan that includes more US combat forces and greater counterterrorism efforts.

"Nearly seven months into President Trump's administration, we've had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened," said Mr McCain, the Republican chairman of the senate armed services committee and 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."

Mr McCain said the US needed to put strict conditions on continued assistance to Afghanistan. Kabul should be required to show "measurable progress" in curbing corruption, strengthening the rule of law, and improving the government's financial transparency.

He said he would seek a vote on his "strategy for success" in Afghanistan when the senate reconvenes in September and takes up the annual defence policy bill.

Frustrated by his options, Mr Trump has withheld approval of a long-delayed Afghanistan war strategy as he searches for a plan that will allow American forces to pull out once and for all.

The United States has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, and Mr Trump has so far resisted the Pentagon's recommendations to send almost 4,000 more to expand training of Afghan military forces and strengthen US counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda, a growing ISIL affiliate and other extremist groups.

The troop deployment has been held up amid broader strategy questions, including how to engage regional powers in an effort to stabilise the fractured nation. These powers include US friends and foes, from Pakistan and India to China, Russia and Iran. The Pentagon's plans do not call for a radical departure from the limited approach endorsed by former president Barack Obama, and several officials have credited Mr Trump with rightly asking tough questions, such as how the prescribed approach might lead to success.


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But Mr McCain has grown increasingly impatient. During a committee hearing in June, he told defence secretary James Mattis that he had been confident the Trump 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," he said.

The amendment he proposes to add to the defence policy bill calls for a "long-term, open-ended" US-Afghanistan partnership that includes an "enduring US counterterrorism presence".

He also recommends expanding US training assistance to the Afghan security forces and longer-term support that will allow the Afghans to develop and expand their own intelligence, logistics, special forces and airlift operations.

Mr McCain envisions making better use of US military and civil strengths in order to "deny, disrupt, degrade and destroy" the ability of terrorist groups to use Afghanistan as a sanctuary and then seek a "negotiated peace process" that leads to political reconciliation.

He also wants to punish neighbouring Pakistan with 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".