McCain: Kandahar is key to victory in Afghan war
The ranking Republican on the US Senate Armed Services Committee said NATO and Afghan troops will prevail in the war if they can succeed in securing and bolstering governance in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
John McCain, who visited Afghanistan's largest city in the south on Monday with two other US lawmakers, warned of tough fighting ahead and predicted that casualties would rise in the short-term.
"The Taliban know that Kandahar is the key to success or failure. So what happens in this operation will have a great effect on the outcome of this conflict. But I am convinced we can succeed and will succeed, and Kandahar is obviously the key area. And if succeed there, we will succeed in the rest of this struggle," McCain told a news conference at the airport in Kabul.
McCain, a Republican from Arizona, also reiterated his opposition to President Barack Obama's plan to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011. Obama has said that large numbers of troops would not be pulled out if conditions did not allow, but that caveat has often gotten lost in the discussion over the length of US commitment to the war.
McCain said he expected progress to be made in Afghanistan between now and July 2011. "But we must not tell the enemy that we will begin leaving when we have not finished the job," he said.
During a two-day visit, McCain and Sen Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who is on the Armed Services Committee, and Sen Joseph Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut who is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, met with Gen David Petraeus, the newly installed NATO commander, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.
Lieberman said he understood that Obama wanted to use the July 2011 timetable to send the message that the US would not be in Afghanistan forever. Still, he said he thought the president was wrong to set it. "We hear it everywhere we go here. They say they think we're leaving. We're not going to leave until we win."
McCain also said he expected Petraeus to refine the rules of engagement on the battlefield."Probably there will be some tweaking," McCain said. "We get that impression from him."