ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (Reuters) - Republican presidential hopeful John McCain criticized the flagging U.S. war effort in Afghanistan on Tuesday and vowed to repair it if elected, starting with sending more U.S. and NATO troops.
“That’s no way to run a war,” said McCain, complaining that security in Afghanistan has deteriorated and the status quo is not acceptable.
McCain waded into the debate over what to do in Afghanistan, a war begun after the September 11 attacks that Democrats charge has been neglected by the Bush administration as it concentrates on Iraq.
An attack on a U.S. base near the Pakistan border by a resurgent Taliban on Sunday killed nine U.S. soldiers and wounded 15, the biggest single American loss in Afghanistan since 2005.
McCain, an Arizona senator who calls himself an underdog in his November 4 election battle against Democrat Barack Obama, said an improving security situation in Iraq as a result of a U.S. troop increase, or “surge,” should allow the United States to send more forces to Afghanistan.
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan say they need at least three additional brigades of about 3,500 troops each, and McCain said they should get them. There are currently 36,000 American troops stationed in Afghanistan.
“Thanks to the success of the surge, these forces are becoming available, and our commanders in Afghanistan must get them. But sending more forces, by itself, is not enough to prevail,” McCain told a town hall meeting in New Mexico, a battleground state in the U.S. election.
McCain senior adviser Nicolle Wallace told reporters later that McCain wanted NATO forces to contribute troops as well.
“This isn’t just an American war,” she said.
McCain received a standing ovation from the crowd when he vowed to get elusive al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden if elected. “When I am commander-in-chief, there will be nowhere the terrorists can run, and nowhere they can hide,” he said.
McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who touts his national security expertise as an essential presidential qualification, was sharply critical of the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
McCain, a strong supporter of the war in Iraq after earlier criticizing the Bush administration’s handling of it, said the United States lacks a comprehensive campaign plan for Afghanistan “because we have violated one of the cardinal rules of any military operation: unity of command.”
“Today there are no less than three different American military combatant commands operating in Afghanistan, as well as NATO, some of whose members have national restrictions on where their troops can go and what they can do. That’s no way to run a war,” he said.
He also said Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai was not the strong leader the United States thought he would be, compared to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
“Karzai has not been effective,” he told reporters on his campaign bus.
(Editing by David Wiessler)
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