On Thursday, Sen. John McCain followed up with a recent threat to the Trump administration after weeks of strategic delays in Afghanistan — the Arizona senator and his staff snuck a proposal that goes behind Secretary Mattis’ back and increase U.S. forces and the use of air power in the Middle Eastern country.
The proposal, which McCain said was filed as a proposed amendment to an annual defense bill, increases troops for counterterrorism operations and calls for an open-ended agreement with Afghanistan with an enduring U.S. counterterrorism presence in the country.
It would also embed U.S. military trainers and advisers at the battalion level of every Afghan army corps and “significantly” increase the use of U.S. air power, according to a released copy of the legislation. The proposed amendment does not specify the number of additional U.S. troops who would be deployed in the nearly 16-year-old conflict.
McCain had warned President Trump, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and other administration officials to finish up a promised new Afghanistan strategy or he would add one to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is expected to be debated and amended on the floor of the Senate in September.
“Now, nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened,” McCain, who is the Armed Services chairman, said in a released statement. “The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief.”
McCain’s proposal would beef up forces in Afghanistan and remove current timelines placed on the military, but it shares the same long-standing goals of U.S. foreign policy for the country. It aims to keep Afghanistan’s government from collapse, eliminate the risk of a terrorist save haven, and beat back the Taliban and other terror groups.
“We must face facts: We are losing in Afghanistan and time is of the essence if we intend to turn the tide,” he said.
Mattis testified before McCain’s committee in June, and said the administration would be prepared to brief lawmakers on a new Afghanistan strategy in mid-July. But it has yet to finalize the plans despite increasing pressure from McCain.
Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson, the commander of forces in Afghanistan, said earlier this year that a few thousand more troops were needed to break a stalemate with the Taliban. The Trump administration was weighing the deployment of 3,000-4,000 additional troops, according to lawmakers briefed on the plans.
Trump was reportedly considering firing Nicholson due to his frustration over a growing consensus that the U.S. is not only facing a stalemate, but might be losing in its effort to defeat the Taliban and a growing Islamic State presence by backing the government in Kabul, which controls about 60 percent of the country.
The White House may now be considering an alternative plan to privatize much of the U.S. war effort by hiring 5,500 contractors to take over the advising and assisting of Afghan security forces now performed by the military and 90 contracted air craft, according to Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater security firm and brother of Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos.
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