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McCain calls for strategy to win Afghan war

While he welcomes President Obama's recent decision to send more troops there, Sen. John McCain said Wednesday that a new, extensive and comprehensive plan must be implemented to win the war in Afghanistan.

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, equated the current situation in Afghanistan to the war in Iraq before the surge strategy was implemented in 2007. "The same truth that was apparent three years ago in Iraq is apparent today in Afghanistan:  When you aren't winning in this kind of war, you are losing," he said, according to his prepared remarks. "And, in Afghanistan today, we are not winning.  Let us not shy from the truth, but let us not be paralyzed by it either."

"A major change in course is long overdue," he added.

In particular, McCain said the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and civilian fatalities continue to rise. The number of insurgent attacks per week were higher in 2008 than 2007, he said, and "since 2005, violence has increased 500 percent."

Nevertheless, McCain remains confident that victory is possible in Afghanistan and views success as essential. "We must win the war in Afghanistan," he said. "The alternative is to risk that country's return to its previous function as a terrorist sanctuary, from which al-Qaida could train and plan attacks against America."

Obama announced in the middle of February that he plans to send 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, which will bring the total number of troops in the country to about 53,000. The administration has yet to announce any further plans for the military strategy in Afghanistan.

McCain "welcomed" that influx in troops but said much more needs to be done. "Let us make no mistake," he said, "we will fail in Afghanistan without a serious change in both strategy and resources."

In addition to increasing troop levels, McCain said a series of elements are crucial winning the war. As with Iraq and the surge, McCain said the military needs to focus on counterinsurgency and not just counterterrorism. That, he said, will allow the troops to improve security in the country.

"If we focus on counterterrorism to the exclusion of counterinsurgency, we will only ensure that we successfully execute neither," he said. "Simply put, we cannot achieve our counterterrorism goals in Afghanistan without counterinsurgency, and we cannot achieve our counterinsurgency goals without development and good governance."

McCain also said the U.S. should help Afghanistan increase the size of its military. He noted that the Iraqi military added 100,000 security forces at the same time the U.S. implemented its surge strategy. Currently, he said, Afghanistan military is composed of 68,000 troops and even if it reaches its goal of 134,000, it will still be too small. "At a minimum," McCain said, "we need to more than double the current size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops, and consider enlarging it to 200,000."

McCain also called for changing diplomatic efforts with allies. "While I believe the United States should continue to encourage European troop contributions and press for the reduction of caveats on their use, I also believe we should move away from stressing what Washington wants Europe to give, and more toward encouraging what Europe is prepared to contribute."

The lawmaker said the country should focus on non-military assistance to stabilize the country's law system and other institutions. Similarly, obtaining control of Afghanistan's narcotics industry is also important, McCain said.

McCain called for working regionally and dedicating significant resources to Pakistan. "For too long we have viewed Pakistan as important because of our goals in Afghanistan," he said. "Yet Pakistan is not simply important because of Afghanistan; Pakistan is important because of Pakistan. We cannot simply subordinate our Pakistan strategy to our Afghanistan policy."

Finally, McCain prescribed leveling with the American people about the challenges American troops face in Afghanistan.

"Unlike Iraq, where the surge of troops conducting counterinsurgency operations, combined with a quickly spreading Anbar Awakening, transformed the country in less than a year, Afghanistan is likely to be harder and longer," McCain said. "The violence is likely to get worse before it gets better. The scale of resources required to prevail will be enormous, and the timetable will be measured in years, not months."

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