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Tags: McCain | Afghanistan | combat | Obama

Sen. McCain Visits Afghanistan as Combat Role About to End

By    |   Thursday, 25 December 2014 10:06 PM EST

Sen. John McCain spent Christmas Day in Afghanistan on a visit that comes one week before American and NATO forces pull out of the country, ending the nation's longest war.

The Arizona Republican and 2008 presidential candidate met with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and his chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah in separate meetings during his visit.

Ghani praised the sacrifices of the U.S. troops during their 13 years in Afghanistan, while McCain emphasized America's long-term support for the country, according to a statement released by the presidency.

The senator left for Iraq late Thursday.

Most of the U.S.-led combat troops will withdraw from Afghanistan on Dec. 31, leaving local forces to battle increasingly bold Islamic militants seeking to take advantage of the potential security vacuum.

The United States has spent $1 trillion on combating the Taliban in Afghanistan. An additional $100 billion has been spent on reconstruction assistance to the Afghan government.

As many as 2,210 U.S. soldiers have died in the country. Only 13,500 troops will remain in Kabul for training and battlefield support after the pullout. That compares with a peak of 140,000 in 2010.

President Barack Obama spoke of the end of the combat phase in his Christmas address from Hawaii, where he and his family are on vacation.

"In just a few days, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over," the president said. "Our longest war will come to a responsible end."

But the coalition is leaving behind a war as hot as it has been at any time since 2001.

This year was the deadliest for Afghan civilians since the insurgency began soon after the Taliban was removed from power. Civilian casualties could hit 10,000 for the first time since the U.N.'s Afghanistan mission started keeping figures in 2008.

Nicholas Haysom, the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, said that in the 11 months leading up to Nov. 30, 9,617 civilians were casualties of the war, including 3,188 deaths and 6,429 injuries.

Taliban attacks are believed to have caused 75 percent of the casualties.

With U.S. and NATO forces no longer going on the offensive, the insurgents are seizing territory across the country, redrawing battle lines through towns and villages and putting civilians at heightened risk, according to Emanuel Nannini, program coordinator in Kabul with the international aid agency Emergency.

In addition, Afghan security forces are falling in record numbers as they step up their role in the fighting. As many as 5,000 have died this year alone, compared with about 3,500 foreign forces.

The bloodshed has led McCain and other Republicans to call for a stronger U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

McCain, among the strongest of President Obama's critics on Afghanistan, is expected to be named chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee when the Republican-controlled chamber convenes next month.

The senator has long cited how the U.S. was dragged back into Iraq after the war ended in 2011 to battle the brutal Islamic State (ISIS). The group has seized vast swaths of territory and has captured and slain civilians who do not support their terrorist ambitions.

The group has also murdered five Westerners, including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.

Last month, ISIS beheaded Peter Kassig, 26, a former U.S. Army Ranger who was captured while delivering relief supplies in Syria. The militants recently beheaded four children — all reportedly younger than age 15 — after they refused to embrace Islam.

The White House in September stepped up airstrikes against ISIS. In November, President Obama authorized 1,500 more troops to train and assist Iraqi forces.

By February, the United States will have about 3,000 ground troops in Baghdad, CNN reports.

"It's going to be a lot worse unless we leave a force behind rather than removing everybody from Afghanistan," McCain told Greta Van Susteren on her Fox News Channel program.

While Pentagon officials have said they will add 1,000 more troops to those remaining in Kabul, they have played down a re-emergence of the Taliban — saying that they will continue with Obama's original plans.

By the end of next year, the United States forces will drop to 5,500. The administration expects new coalition forces to arrive in Kabul by next spring, according to Fox.

Citing the Iraq example, Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox that she supported McCain's efforts to push the Obama administration toward a more practical timeline for leaving Kabul.

"The American people are war weary [in Afghanistan] and just tired of fighting wars in general," Curtis said. "But at the same time, they are nervous about what they've seen in Iraq."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Sen. John McCain spent Christmas Day in Afghanistan on a visit that comes one week before American and NATO forces pull out of the country, ending the nation's longest war. The Arizona Republican and 2008 presidential candidate met with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and his...
McCain, Afghanistan, combat, Obama
Thursday, 25 December 2014 10:06 PM
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