WASHINGTON — Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain has announced his own strategy for the war in Afghanistan, he says, because the Trump administration is lagging.
Calling America “adrift in Afghanistan,” McCain is offering a civil-military strategy that adds more U.S. counterterror troops and more pressure on Pakistan to not provide sanctuary to the Taliban and Haqqani network.
Counterterror troops would maintain an enduring presence, per a proposed agreement with the Afghan government. The U.S. would also provide air power and troops to advise Afghan forces at kandak, or battalion, level.
McCain, R-Ariz., announced Thursday he would offer the strategy as an amendment to the 2018 defense policy bill. He is undergoing cancer treatment but has said he plans to spearhead the bill when Congress resumes in early September.
The “sense of Congress” amendment is nonbinding, but, if adopted, it would send a signal from the legislative branch to the White House. It comes as restless lawmakers have rapped U.S. President Donald Trump for his blustery rhetoric on North Korea, called for a new debate on a war authorization and demanded Trump provide plans for the fight against the Islamic State group.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised Congress in June he would deliver a new military strategy for Afghanistan by mid-July. At the time, McCain warned him that absent a strategy from the administration, “you’re going to get a strategy from us.”
Trump has questioned his generals about whether the 16-year-old effort to stabilize Afghanistan is still worth it, and is said to be mulling a replacement for the top U.S. commander there, Gen. John Nicholson, Politico reported Thursday. That, and Trump’s failure to approve a plan there, has reportedly inhibited allies and commanders there.
“America is adrift in Afghanistan,” McCain said in a statement. “The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief.”
The U.S. is losing in Afghanistan and losing the initiative, McCain said.
“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,” he added.
For McCain — one of Trump’s sharpest critics in the GOP — it marked the second time in days that he rapped Trump on national security matters. McCain cautioned Trump to watch his words on North Korea and questioned his resolve to act there militarily after Trump promised “fire and fury” in the ongoing standoff.
McCain also urged Trump to choose between White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and national security adviser H.R. McMaster — a fight with direct implications for the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
“I would resolve this internecine strife between Bannon and McMaster,” McCain said in a Facebook town hall on Tuesday. “You can’t run a train with two engineers. You can only have one.”
McMaster, a former Army general now charged with setting the Afghanistan strategy, has been clashing over foreign policy and personnel with Bannon, who is reportedly pushing for less global engagement.
Bannon, The Washington Post reports, supports plans from Blackwater founder Erik Prince to replace thousands of American soldiers in Afghanistan with contractors from foreign countries led by a “viceroy” with almost unfettered power over U.S. military and diplomatic policy. McMaster reportedly opposes plans to outsource the fighting.
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.