WASHINGTON — Frustrated by the lack of an Afghanistan war strategy from the White House, Sen. John McCain on Thursday unveiled his own plan for winning America’s longest conflict.
“We must face facts: We are losing in Afghanistan, and time is of the essence if we intend to turn the tide,” the Arizona Republican, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
The proposal is more of a mission statement for how to win the nearly 16-year-old war than a blueprint. It calls for: increasing “U.S. counterterrorism forces” but does not include a precise number of new troops; imposing unspecified “diplomatic, military and economic costs” on Pakistan for its continued support of groups fighting Afghan and U.S.-led forces; and tying U.S. aid to Afghanistan on to-be-determined “benchmarks” on issues like rule of law and the fight against rampant corruption. While the proposal does not specify how many more troops should serve in Afghanistan, it says the administration should set force levels “based on political and security conditions on the ground” and “unconstrained by arbitrary timelines.”
McCain packaged his ideas in a nonbinding “sense of Congress” resolution that he aims to attach to an annual military spending authorization bill, on track for debate next month.
Senior Trump advisers have waged an internal war over the way forward in Afghanistan, with the president himself deeply skeptical of deepening America’s involvement in anything that might resemble the nation-building projects he denounced on the 2016 campaign trail.
Some top aides say they face a “victory problem” — how to define success. There is a broad consensus that America’s foremost national security goal is to prevent Afghanistan from slipping back into its pre-9/11 state as a safe haven for extremists plotting to strike at America or its allies.
But beyond that, there have been three distinct camps, according to several top Trump aides. Senior adviser Steve Bannon has fueled Trump’s instinct to be skeptical of proposals to send more troops. National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster has pushed for a broad military, economic and diplomatic commitment to Afghanistan (Bannon has joked with other West Wing aides that Trump should send McMaster to run the war). Defense Secretary James Mattis has argued for a narrower mission in which U.S. forces train and equip their Afghan counterparts and provide some limited battlefield role, while…