McCain and Lieberman concerned about Afghanistan drawdown

Republican Sen. John McCain and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman — two of the dwindling bloc of senators still supporting the U.S. presence in Afghanistan — affirmed their support for the war Thursday.

Both senators also voiced their concerns about the projected troop drawdown.

At a panel hosted by the Institute for the Study of War, the two senators, along with retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, also a former vice chief of staff for the Army, said U.S. troops are succeeding in Afghanistan.

“Not only do I think we can succeed, we are succeeding now and we’ve got to succeed,” Lieberman said.

But they also said the Obama administration’s proposed troop drawdown — which would withdraw 10,000 troops this year and 23,000 by next September — would add more risk to the continuing operation in Afghanistan.

McCain said neither he nor any military expert that he knows of would agree with basing the troop withdrawals on a calendar instead of conditions in Afghanistan.

“This is now the Obama–Biden strategy,” he said. “This is not Petraeus’ strategy, or any other military leader that I know of.” (Obama unveils new counterterrorism strategy)

“I’m very, very, very worried,” McCain said.

The three panelists also expressed concern about the United States’ faltering relationship with Pakistan. The nation has been accused of harboring and abetting insurgents, and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence is thought to have been complicit in concealing Osama Bin Laden.

McCain said the United States must do everything possible to make Pakistan, especially its intelligence service, appreciate that the American people will not support funneling tax dollars to Pakistan as foreign aid if Pakistan has factions working against the United States.

He also said he’s worried that taxpayers and politicians will stop being supportive of funding for other efforts in the region.

“I am very concerned about our long-term willingness to fund the Afghan National Army,” he said.

The panelists also addressed what they thought appropriate circumstances for removing all general-purpose troops from the region would be.

The 2014 deadline is achievable, McCain said. But it will be harder to achieve if the proposed number of troops leave in the next two years. (US cost of war at least $3.7 trillion and counting)

He said removing those troops would be justified when Afghanistan’s government resembles the current government in Iraq – a stumbling, factionalized democracy that does not pose a threat to the United States’ national security.

But the wars the United States is fighting in the region are ambiguous, Keane said.

“These are subjective judgments that are being made.”