- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2017

Worried by the Trump administration’s delay in announcing a military strategy for the war in Afghanistan, Sen. John McCain said Thursday he’ll try to force the debate on Capitol Hill, offering his own plan that would force a troop increase.

The Arizona Republican, who is also chairman of the Armed Services Committee, didn’t lay out a number in the legislation but said more American counterterrorism forces should be deployed, and given independent authority to strike targets of the Taliban, al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

Mr. McCain also said the U.S should secure a long-term agreement with Afghanistan for an “enduring” military presence there, and should begin to impose penalties on neighboring Pakistan as punishment for that country’s harboring of insurgents and terrorists.

His plan comes at a time when the Trump White House is divided by debate over what to do in the war-torn nation, which continues to backslide on a host of security yardsticks.

President Trump said Thursday that his administration is “getting very close” to deciding whether to deploy more troops.

“It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess and we’re going to make it a lot less messy,” the president told reporters after a meeting with his security team in New Jersey, where he’s on a working vacation.

It’s a decision the administration had promised a month ago, but Mr. Trump appears to be skeptical of his advisers’ reported plans to commit thousands more troops

“The president is asking, I think, some very, very pointed questions, and they are good questions. They were the right questions that he should be asking, and perhaps these are questions that no one’s been willing to raise in the past,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson told reporters earlier this week.

He said they need more time to analyze the options, and suggested some of those options include not surging the U.S. commitment, which amounts to about 10,000 troops right now.

“It’s one thing to say we’re just going to keep fighting because there is no other option. There are always other options,” the secretary said.

Mr. McCain said he’s been disappointed by both President Obama and Mr. Trump, and criticized them both Thursday.

“America is adrift in Afghanistan,” he said. “President Obama’s ‘don’t lose’ strategy has put us on a path to achieving the opposite result. Now, nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened. The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief.”

The Senate is poised to take up the annual defense policy bill when it returns from summer vacation, and Mr. McCain, as committee chairman, will manage the debate, giving him the chance to force his amendment to a vote.

A former Navy pilot who was held in a prisoner of war camp in Vietnam, Mr. McCain has long one of Capitol Hill’s foremost defense hawks. He pushed the troop surge strategy under President George W. Bush that helped stabilize Iraq in the latter part of the last decade, before the rise of the Islamic State under Mr. Obama sent the country spiraling again.

Mr. McCain said the U.S. is “losing” right now in Afghanistan and must set strategic goals and revamp tactics to regain the upper hand.

The most recent report from the special inspector general overseeing U.S. efforts in Afghanistan was grim. The analysts concluded that the Afghan government and insurgents are at a stalemate, the number of “security incidents” in the country is spiking, and the government’s revenue is tumbling. Its own resources account for just 40 percent of its annual budget.

Opiate production in the country also doubled between 2015 and 2016, the inspector general reported.

But American efforts in the country have also been plagued with problems, with cash being wasted left and right. The auditors said American officials are essentially confined to the embassy compound, meaning they can’t oversee the billions of dollars the U.S. has spent on infrastructure and social programs in the troubled nation.

All told, the U.S. has obligated $714 billion for war fighting and reconstruction, the inspector general said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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