- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2009

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the White House would be committing “an error of historic proportions” if it doesn’t accede to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for tens of thousands more troops in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California upped the pressure for a major Afghanistan troop surge from the Democratic side, saying it makes no sense to stay in Afghanistan and not grant the general the forces he says are necessary.

Mr. McCain said he doesn’t think the United States can win in Afghanistan unless President Obama sends at least 40,000 more troops to augment the 68,000 scheduled to be there by year’s end - as suggested by Gen. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

“To not give the resources … to our leaders in the field, given in light of the experiences we’ve had, would be a fundamental error that would lead to consequences for a long, long time,” Mr. McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday.

Ms. Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, noted that a total withdrawal from Afghanistan was taken off the table by Mr. Obama in last week’s congressional meetings.

Given that, the California Democrat said, “if you don’t want to take the [general’s] recommendations, then you put your people in such jeopardy.”

“I don’t know how you put somebody in who was as crackerjack as General McChrystal, who gives the president very solid recommendations, and not take those recommendations if you’re not going to pull out,” Ms. Feinstein said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Ms. Feinstein has pressed for a timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, though she hasn’t called for definitive date. “Should we stay there for 10, 12 years? … I don’t think so,” she said, arguing that this is why a major force increase and a switch to a counterinsurgency strategy, as happened in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, is necessary.

She added that the “mission is in serious jeopardy” and the president needs to make a decision on troop levels “sooner, rather than later.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said he doesn’t support sending more combat troops to Afghanistan now. Instead, he said, more focus should be placed on strengthening the Afghan army and encouraging low-level Taliban members to abandon the militants.

“There are many ways to show resolve in addition to more and more combat forces, including many more trainers to get the Afghan forces to be a lot larger and a lot stronger,” Mr. Levin said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Levin said more U.S. trainers are needed to make Afghan security forces more effective, but added that the U.S. needs to find a way to get the heavily Pashtun Taliban fighters to switch sides.

“The surge that will really work in Afghanistan is a surge of Afghan troops,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that stabilizing the fragile Afghan government was a necessity. He said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “you could send 1 million troops into Afghanistan, and it would not legitimize their government.”

But he also called a U.S. troop increase a prerequisite to boosting Afghan forces and making the Afghan government more functional, citing success in Iraq.

“Once the security got better because of the surge, the Iraqis stepped up,” he said.

Mr. Levin was supported in his opposition to sending more U.S. forces by Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, who has called for a definitive end date for U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.

Mr. McGovern warned on the ABC show that “enlarging our military footprint in Afghanistan would be a mistake” and “be counterproductive [because] … the larger our military footprint, the more difficult it is to achieve reconciliation. And, quite frankly, it’s been used as a recruiting tool by the Taliban.”

Mr. Levin also urged the president to listen to a multitude of opinions before reaching a decision on troop levels in Afghanistan.

“Obviously a commander’s recommendation is important - it’ll be given great weight,” he said. “But so also should the recommendation of a secretary of defense, who is the choice of the president to be in that position.”

Mr. McCain cautioned against what he called “half- measures” in Afghanistan made from political motives.

“I think the great danger now is not an American pullout,” he said. “I think the great danger now is a half-measure … trying to please all ends of the political spectrum.”

Mr. McCain said that despite reports that al Qaeda’s numbers have dwindled in Afghanistan, easing pressure on the country’s Taliban rebels would embolden and strengthen the terrorist group. “They will become inextricably tied,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, agreed that the Taliban and al Qaeda must be confronted simultaneously.

“You do get the impression the administration is - at least some in the administration - are trying to distinguish between al Qaeda and the Taliban,” he said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“They are different. But they are interconnected,” he said, calling himself “troubled” over reports that the administration may consider working with the Taliban on some level to rid Afghanistan of al Qaeda.

Ms. Feinstein was more sanguine about such a strategy, even while saying that some Taliban members were irredeemably hard-core terrorists and that she was concerned about human rights violations and attacks on women when the Taliban ran the country.

But “I think we need to look for those warlords that we can work with, those Pashtuns who want to work for stability, for good, solid governance. I don’t think we can make the country into a Jeffersonian democracy, but I do think you - you’ve got to stabilize this country,” she said.

Mr. McConnell said he was confident that the Senate would support Gen. McChrystal’s request for more troops.

“This is not just about nation-building,” Mr. McConnell said. “This is about protecting the United States of America.

“When the Taliban was in charge in Afghanistan, al Qaeda was allowed to operate freely,” he said. “We know they launched the 9/11 attack from there, planned it and launched it from there.”

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