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Sen. McCain Expects A Permanent U.S. Presence In Afghanistan


And we're joined now by the senator who chaired that hearing, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Welcome back to the program.

SEN JOHN MCCAIN: Thank you. It's great to be back with you.

INSKEEP: Is the United States headed toward a permanent presence, then, in Afghanistan?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think we are, just as we have a permanent presence in South Korea and in Japan and in Germany and other places where we've fought conflicts. That does not mean that we would continue to see casualties, but I am totally sure that if we pull everybody out to the degree as it's presently planned, we will see the Iraq movie again. And that is the place, I would remind you, where the 9/11 attacks were inaugurated.

INSKEEP: What are the implications of that, Senator, though - because, as people will know, South Korea, Germany, those are places where there have been very tense moments but not all that much conflict over the decades. You're in a situation where, after 14 years in Afghanistan, you still have a lot of conflict.

MCCAIN: Well, because of the American presence, they are able to defend themselves. But they have a robust American presence, training and other programs. Look, the other option, as far as I'm concerned, if we go to what they call an embassy-centric force, which is the same as any other country, you will see the Taliban. And now, ISIS is now coming in, and the Iranians are now providing arms to the Taliban. You will see chaos in Afghanistan. And frankly, I know of no military leader that doesn't believe that.

INSKEEP: Does the recent fall of the Afghan city of Kunduz, after 14 years of U.S. involvement in the country, suggest that Afghan forces will never be able to secure the country on their own - never?

MCCAIN: No, but I objected to the degree of the drawdown. But it certainly shows that there is Taliban capability, and Kunduz is a classic example of that. So you have two choices. You either pull out, the way the president wants to do - and we've seen that movie before. Or you can have a certain level of involvement and engagement which, frankly, does not include a lot of American casualties because of the roles that they would play - advise, train special forces, others and have plans that will stabilize the situation.

INSKEEP: Do you worry that the United States military just does not know how to stand up a capable Afghan army, given the political situation and the challenges they've faced there?

MCCAIN: Well, I made reference to Iraq. And after the surge, we had the situation completely under control in Iraq. And all of us predicted that if we pulled everybody out, as the president did, that you would see the situation descend into chaos. I am still convinced and know that if we had left a sustaining force behind, as we could have, that the situation in Iraq would be dramatically different. And by the way, you would not have ISIS.

INSKEEP: As you know, there've been allegations of a war crime against the United States because of what the U.S. has said was an accidental bombing of a hospital in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan. I have a very specific question about that, Senator. The airplane that was used is called an AC-130, a very powerful gunship, fires an incredible volume of artillery shells on a specific spot. This is a gunship that's so powerful that it's been involved in killing civilians in the past. And human rights groups have said this just should not be used in an urban area. Speaking yourself, as a military man, as a former pilot, was that the right weapon to choose in that situation?

MCCAIN: The right weapon to choose is the weapon that most rapidly and effectively and efficiently kills the enemy. And I have seen, as you mentioned, these gunships in action. They have saved American lives by being able to suppress the enemy and enemy fire. This tragedy - and it's a terrible tragedy - would not have occurred if the Taliban had not attacked the place to start with. And so I find it ludicrous and insulting that people would say because of this terrible accident that somehow, war crimes are committed. To call that a war crime distorts the definition of a war crime.

INSKEEP: When you referred, Senator, to the Taliban attacking the place, did you mean to suggest the Taliban were at or in the near vicinity of that hospital? Because Doctors Without Borders has denied that.

MCCAIN: I'm saying that they were in the vicinity because they were in Kunduz.

INSKEEP: In the city of, OK.

MCCAIN: Yeah, but I think it's pretty obvious that fire was coming from the Taliban in the city. I am not saying that there was anything but a terrible tragedy, but to think that everything we do is with pinpoint accuracy lacks a fundamental understanding of what warfare is all about.

INSKEEP: Arizona Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much.

MCCAIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.