Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements MORE (R-Ariz.) expressed his sympathy for the Afghan civilians killed in Sunday's shooting rampage, but warned against withdrawing U.S. forces too quickly in reaction to the incident.
"It's a terrible situation that happened there," said McCain on "Fox News Sunday." "It's one of those things that you cannot explain except to extend your deepest sympathy to those victims and see that justice is done."
A U.S. service member left his base on Sunday, broke into homes in southern Afghanistan and killed at least 16 civilians. U.S. authorities have not released the identity of the suspect, who is being held in custody.
McCain pushed back against suggestions that the civilian shootings, along with the violence spurred by the accidental burning of Qurans on an airbase last month, indicate the U.S. should pull out its forces more quickly.
"I understand the frustration, and I understand the anger and the sorrow. I also understand and we should not forget that the attacks on the United States of America on 9/11 originated in Afghanistan," he said.
McCain said that if the situation in Afghanistan is allowed to dissolve into chaos or if the Taliban takes control again, the country could "easily" become an al-Qaeda base of attack.
"That was, is, still our goal as it was the day we went in," he said.
McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pointed to the agreement Friday to transfer prisoners to Afghan government control as a "significant step" towards a long-term strategic partnership agreement between the two countries.
The United States will accelerate its transfer of Afghan detainees at the Parwan Detention Facility to give President Hamid Karzai’s government control in six months.
"That is I think an important step forward, but these things in warfare that happen give us all the more reason to have it be avoided," he added.
However, the Arizona senator cautioned there continue to be "fundamental problems" of corruption in the Karzai government and sanctuary in Pakistan.
Earlier on the same program GOP presidential hopeful and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich expressed pessimism about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, saying the U.S. goals in the region might not be “doable.”
"I reached a conclusion frankly about the entire region that is much more pessimistic than Washington's official position," Gingrich said on Fox News Sunday. "I think it's going to get substantially worse, not better.