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McCain: Trump ‘finally moving forward’ on Afghanistan strategy

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is voicing optimism about the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan after a meeting at the White House on Wednesday.

“They’re finally moving forward,” McCain said in response to a question from The Hill, adding that national security adviser H.R. McMaster “called me up, said, ‘Come over to the White House tomorrow, we’ll have some good information for you,’ and he did.”

McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he’s expecting an announcement on changes soon but would not elaborate, saying McMaster asked him to stay quiet until President Trump announces it himself.

The Arizona senator’s latest comments come a day after he excoriated Defense Secretary James Mattis at a hearing for not yet presenting a strategy from the Trump administration on Afghanistan.

“I hope you understand that I am not criticising you, but there are problems within this administration,” McCain told Mattis. “I was confident that in the first 30 to 60 days we were going to have a strategy from which to start working.”
“So all I can tell you is, that unless we get a strategy from, you’re going to a get strategy from us. And I appreciate our wisdom and knowledge and information and all of the great things –– with the exception of some to my left here –– but the fact is, it’s not our job. It’s not our job. It’s yours,” he said.

Shortly after the Tuesday hearing, Trump gave Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan. Mattis confirmed the change in a Senate Appropriations hearing Wednesday while stressing that no changes in troop numbers have happened yet.

There are currently 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan on a dual mission of training, advising and assisting Afghan troops in their fight against the Taliban and conducting counterterrorism missions against groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated in the last couple years with the Taliban now controlling about a third of the country. A branch of ISIS also arose, though U.S. officials say it has shrunk to a few hundred fighters in a few districts in one province.

Mattis, who first rose to national prominence in 2001 as the one-star general who led an amphibious task force of Marines that carried out the raid on Kandahar province in Afghanistan, has promised to “correct” the situation there.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Mattis said the Pentagon is working on a broader Afghanistan strategy that will be ready to send to the president in the next few weeks.

“Together in the interagency, we will define the way ahead and I will set the U.S. military commitment consistent with the commander-in-chief’s strategic direction and the foreign policy as dictated by Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson,” Mattis said.

“This ensures the department can facilitate our missions and nimbly align our commitment to the situation on the ground. Our overall mission Afghanistan remains the same. To train, advise and assist the Afghan forces so they can safeguard the Afghan people and terrorists can find no haven in Afghanistan for attacking us or others.”

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