WASHINGTON — As the U.S. readies to send 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain hammered the Trump administration for failing to produce a strategy for America's longest war.
The call comes as separate Afghan insider attacks killed three U.S. troops and wounded seven this month and as Trump delegated authority on troop numbers to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. In congressional testimony last week, Mattis acknowledged the U.S. is "not winning" the war and he plans to brief his strategy to the White House by mid-July.
In a statement Monday, McCain lamented the stalemate after 16 years of war, the recent troop deaths and the lack of a strategy to achieve victory.
"[S]ix months into the new administration, it still has not delivered a strategy," said McCain, R-Ariz. "We cannot keep going like this. If the administration fails to develop a strategy for success, Congress will need to play a greater role. We owe it to our brave men and women serving in Afghanistan, their families here at home and all of the American people."
In congressional testimony, Mattis gave some broad outlines on Afghanistan and said no decision had been made on troop levels. The new approach, he said, would be part of a regional strategy, which would bring more U.S. diplomatic, intelligence and aviation support to the fight.
The bulk of the additional troops will train and advise Afghan forces, an administration official recently told the Associated Press. A smaller number would be assigned to counter-terror operations against the Taliban and the Islamic State, the official said.
McCain's criticism on Monday contrasted with other hawkish Republicans, who have focused instead on Trump's decision to delegate to Mattis as a positive departure from previous executives, that held decision-making authority more closely.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a SASC member and McCain's friend, told Fox News Radio last week that Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster briefed him, McCain and other senators "about a new strategy, a new plan for Afghanistan that I am very excited about."
"The plan is very well thought out," Graham said.
House Armed Services Committee Chair Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, also acknowledged the conflict was "at best a stalemate" and said it was time to "do something different." Thornberry ripped the Obama administration's "artificial troop caps" as having been a hindrance.
"I think a lot of what Secretary Mattis is looking at is do away with those political caps, just figure out what it really takes to do the mission," Thornberry said.
Thornberry is adding pressure to raise defense spending as the HASC marks up the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act this week and next.
"If we're going to send men and women out on a mission, they ought to have everything we can provide in the way of weapons, equipment and training to make that as successful a mission as possible," he said. "That includes Afghanistan or wherever they are in the world."
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.