February 25th, 2009
02:31 PM ET
6 years ago

McCain: U.S. losing Afghan war

The Obama administration is currently conducting a review of overall U.S. policy in Afghanistan.
The Obama administration is currently conducting a review of overall U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Former GOP presidential nominee John McCain warned Wednesday that the U.S. is losing the war in Afghanistan.

The Arizona senator said that while he approved of President Barack Obama's recent decision to send 17,000 additional troops to the country, he believed an additional allied military and civilian surge would be necessary to prevent it from once again becoming an al-Qaeda safe haven.

The Obama administration is currently conducting a review of overall U.S. policy in the troubled Islamic republic.

"When you aren't winning in this kind of war, you are losing. And, in Afghanistan today, we are not winning," McCain said in remarks delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

McCain claimed that while the situation in Afghanistan is "nowhere near as dire as it was in Iraq," the number of insurgent attacks had spiked in 2008 and violence had increased over 500 percent in the past four years.

Growing portions of the country "suffer under the influence of the Taliban," he added.

McCain's comments echoed those of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who acknowledged last Friday that that the U.S. is facing a "very tough test" in Afghanistan.

"But I'm sure we will rise to the occasion the way we have many times before," Gates told a news conference in Krakow, Poland, where NATO defense ministers were meeting.

McCain said that the U.S. was winning in Afghanistan through early 2005, when some troops were withdrawn and "our integrated civil-military command structure was disassembled and replaced by a Balkanized and dysfunctional arrangement."

A Vietnam War veteran, former prisoner of war and longtime member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain said that while he knows Americans "are weary of war ... we must win (in Afghanistan). The alternative is to risk that country's return to its previous function as a terrorist sanctuary, from which al Qaeda could train and plan attacks against America."

Among other things, McCain stated that the U.S. needs to establish a larger military headquarters capable of executing "the necessary planning and coordination for a nationwide counterinsurgency campaign."

He also said current plans to expand the Afghan army from 68,000 to 134,000 troops were insufficient. He recommended expanding the Afghan army to between 160,000 and 200,000 troops.

At the same time, he said, the U.S. needs to boost the country's non-military assistance to help strengthen "its (civilian) institutions, the rule of law, and the economy in order to provide a sustainable alternative to the drug trade."

Southern Afghanistan currently provides about two-thirds of the world's opium and heroin. Over the years, those two drugs have served as a major source of revenue for the insurgency, including the Taliban.

McCain warned that, even if his recommendations are adopted, the violence in Afghanistan is "likely to get worse before it gets better. The scale of resources required to prevail will be enormous."

The timetable, he concluded, "will be measured in years, not months."


Filed under: Afghanistan • John McCain
soundoff (147 Responses)
  1. Mary White

    Its not our war to be winning, we have to much at stake in the US to worry about other countries. Why don't they take care of the US first, other countries sure don't care about our problems.

    February 25, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  2. K, California

    well doesn't this guy just love to state the obvious, months after its already been stated 500 times in a campaign?!

    McCain was only 9 points over obama in ariz in november. we're taking his senate seat from under his feet next year!

    February 25, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  3. greg in jax

    quite frankly.. i would rather afghanistan be a al-queda safe haven than nuclear pakistan... which is what happened when we didnt finish what we started , when bush and his cronies decided to get rich in iraq... the taliban, al queda and many other militant muslims have become legitimate in a nuclear nation.. they are even destroying girls schools and beheading people over there.. just one step closer to the much dreaded but definitely anticipated nuclear war of the middle east

    February 25, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  4. Proud American

    Hey John, you shouldn't have been such a gentleman during the election, and brought forward all the issues the media buried; like Ayers, Raines, ACORN...etc.etc....that way, perhaps you'd have won, and we'd have a real US citizen, a real American as a president. But, since you decided to waffle and be a lame maverick...you lost, and screwed the country in the process....

    February 25, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  5. carlo

    Isn't this the same man who said we were winning in Iraq and he knew how to catch bin Laden (but has yet to tell anyone how)?

    Didn't he lose the election, too?

    February 25, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  6. Ridgeway

    Pull the troops out and nuke it. Allah can sort out the good from the bad.

    February 25, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  7. Charlie in Maine

    If we are not careful this could become another IRAQ.

    February 25, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  8. karen-Phoenix

    I DO NOT want to WIN a war!!! What is wrong with this man???? McCain is back in the stone age!!! THERE is NO war to win!!! IT will be the people of AFGANISTAN and or Pakistan to decide what they want!!! NOT US!!! McCain has the mind set of a war monger!!!
    WE want a PEACE monger!!! President Obama will get answers from the region, NATO and others and ALL countries envolved will participate!!! THIS IS NOT OUR WAR!!!!

    February 25, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    Right. Make sure you get your comments out there while Obama is still responsibly conducting his review. That way you can either say "I told you so" or take a stance that their review sucked, depending on what Obama ends up deciding. This from the guy who basically claimed he knew how to catch Osama bin Laden but wouldnt' tell unless he was elected. Inane.

    February 25, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  10. greg in jax

    republicans are stupid.. they didnt see this one coming when they decided to dupe the american people into believing that iraq was an actual threat.. or maybe they realized that they were not smart enough to catch osama bin laden.. so they went after someone their own size.. a man who they found in a rat hole.. sadaam hussein..

    February 25, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  11. Frank Sykes

    Well John if your buddies W and Chenney hadn't dropped the ball, lye to the American people and invade and occupy a sovegrn nation, then we wouldn't be losing this war.

    February 25, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  12. Reality Check Richmond Virginia

    is it actually possible to out and out win there? We better be careful how we define "win".....just ask the Russians and the British.

    February 25, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  13. get rid of campbell brown

    isn't it unpatriotic to say we are loosing a war? i guess it's okay when a republican does it.

    February 25, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  14. Maggie

    And this is the same guy who told us the fundamentals of our economy are sound.

    Why does anyone listen to McCain, no matter what he says?

    February 25, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  15. Frank Sykes

    Well John if your buddies W and Chenney hadn't dropped the ball, lye to the American people and invade and occupy a sovegrn nation, then we wouldn't be losing this war. Maybe you should have given Bush your master plan to win the war. That's what you and Palin were claiming....

    February 25, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  16. Soccer Nana

    Why didn't Senator McCain give this advice to President Bush?

    February 25, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  17. Griff............... on The Truth...

    Yes John! That is true. Too close to Russia. They lost their fight. They will not let America or the West win anything in that part of the World. You have to be more: "Negative towards Russia". If you don't tell them to "Shut-Up"... You are just wasting lives...

    February 25, 2009 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  18. gl, Pittsburgh

    McCain have not yet explain who you win a war! Old news!

    February 25, 2009 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  19. dimes

    Not so fast, we now have commander in chief Obama who will go over there and make nice. Does he ask the terrorist to please stop or is it pretty please?

    February 25, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  20. arithmetic is liberal

    beevee – Afghanistan is a losing venture to any country that goes there.

    Alexander the Great asked your very same question.
    So did Napoleon, several Russian Czars and later Premiers, the British Empire, etc.

    The truth is, it is treacherous mountainous terrain (these are the foothills of the Himilayas, after all), tribal leaders are only beholden ot themselves, and the area is sparsely populated with people who have been living there for thousands upon thousands of years. Then us civilize flatlanders go in and think we can take on everything.

    February 25, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  21. Corey W

    Beevee: Good question!!!!!

    February 25, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  22. sherry

    Where was McCain complaining about needing more troops in Afghanistan when Bush was in office......He's nothing but a hypacrit....

    Quit carping old man

    February 25, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  23. Shawn-Tx

    Now Mccain is concerned about Afghanistan? I think this guy just loves war a little too much.

    February 25, 2009 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  24. Emma, San Jose

    It is hard to differentiate between how knowledgeable McCain really is
    and whether he is reacting to having lost the Presidential election. It is no surprise he is choosing this line. He seems to be building his legacy as a war expert. The problem with that is that he agreed with Bush on going to war in Iraq.

    February 25, 2009 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  25. Sam Sixpack

    We can't all live in Lala Land if these detractors won't shut up about "reality."

    February 25, 2009 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
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