McCain says US could be 'on the ground' in Afghanistan past 2014

That involvement would focus on providing intelligence and support for Afghan National Security Forces via U.S special-operations units, according to McCain's prepared remarks for the Tuesday's Atlantic Council forum on the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago.

The first step toward ensuring that extended U.S. role in the country is setting up a Strategic Partnership Agreement with the Afghan government, the Arizona Republican said.

Under such an agreement the United States "could ... continue taking the fight to al Qaeda and the Taliban ... ensuring that those groups can never again pose a military threat to Afghanistan" long after U.S. troops pull out of the country, McCain said.

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Getting such an agreement in place would be "one of the most impactful achievements" to come out of the NATO conference and turn "America and NATO’s talk of a long-term political, economic, and military commitment to Afghanistan into a tangible reality."

That agreement could also open the door for other NATO members to make their own "long-term commitments" to the country as the war is beginning to wind down in Southwest Asia, according to McCain.

“By concluding a strong Strategic Partnership Agreement in Chicago, we could change the narrative of NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan," he said. "This is an enormous opportunity [and] one that we cannot afford to miss."

McCain's comments come at a time when anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan is arguably higher than it has ever been since the war began.

Last week's alleged slaughter of 16 Afghan civilians by Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales capped off a wave of violence that has both Afghans and Americans calling an accelerated troop pullout from the country.

The unprovoked attack came a month after U.S. troops accidentally burned copies of the Quran, sparking a week-long protest that left six American troops and 30 civilians dead. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has publicly said he’s at “the end of the rope" in terms of the U.S. presence in the country.

However, Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told House lawmakers on Tuesday the war remained "on track" and military commanders remain committed to the White House's 2014 redeployment deadline.

"Though much of the news over the past month has been discouraging, it does not change the national security interests that are stake in Afghanistan for all NATO countries," McCain added. "Nor does it mean the war is lost. It is not."