Senator John McCain has been extremely critical of President Trump’s lack of progress toward a new strategy for U.S. involvement in the ongoing fight against Islamist extremists in Afghanistan, and on Thursday, the Senator released one of his own.
“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. “The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis said a new Afghanistan strategy would be announced in July, but thus far, no such announcement has been made.
Senator McCain, who has recently begun undergoing cancer treatment, intends to return to the Senate next month so his proposal can be debated on the floor. According to McCain’s plan, it would be added to the National Defense Authorization Act bill that is currently making its way through the approval process. The addition would qualify as a “sense of Congress” provision – meaning it would not mandate that President Trump take it for action, but would serve as a symbolic gesture of Congress’s intent.
The Senator, who also serves as the chair of the Senate armed services committee, announced his plan on Twitter on Thursday, which calls for an increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan to serve in counter terrorism missions, bringing more U.S. air power to bear within the nation, and giving military commanders in Afghanistan a broader level of authority in choosing targets. He also wants the U.S. to enter into an agreement with the Afghan government to permit an enduring U.S. presence in the nation, while pressuring Pakistan to stop providing sanctuary to extremists fighters.
Pakistan, McCain believes, should be persuaded through graduated diplomatic, economic, and military pressures “as long as it continues to provide support and sanctuary to terrorist and insurgent groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani Network.”
We must face facts: we are losing in Afghanistan and time is of the essence if we intend to turn the tide,” McCain said in a statement. “We need an integrated civil-military approach to bolster U.S. counterterrorism 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.”
Ultimately, McCain’s plan is to eliminate members of ISIS and force the Taliban, who represent the majority of the threat in Afghanistan, to the negotiating table.
There are currently around 8,400 U.S. troops operating in Afghanistan, though the Pentagon has recommended an increase of about 4,000 more since General John W. Nicholson Jr, commander of the American-led international military force in Afghanistan, told lawmakers that the fighting in country had reached a “stalemate” last year. Since then, President Trump has delegated more authority to Defense Secretary James Mattis regarding operations in Afghanistan, but no announcement has been made regarding a shift in troop count.
“The delegation of this authority does not in itself change the force levels for Afghanistan,” Mattis said in June. “Rather, it ensures the Defense Department can facilitate its missions and align its commitment to the rapidly evolving security situation, giving troops greater latitude to provide air power and other vital support.”
Image courtesy of the U.S. State Dept.