On the same day a bombing by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan reportedly killed 11 Afghan civilians, including women and children, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) offered up his proposal for "winning" the 16-year-long war in Afghanistan on Thursday by essentially calling for it to continue endlessly.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who denounced the Trump administration for offering "no strategy at all" for the war thus far, is putting forth his proposal as an amendment to 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. It includes increasing the number of combat troops, cementing "a long-term, open-ended" U.S. presence in the country, and affording the U.S. military broader authority to target extremist groups.
Among the details, as noted in McCain's press statement:
- Increasing the number of U.S. counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan;
- Providing the U.S. military with status-based targeting authorities against the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other terrorist groups that threaten the United States, its allies, and its core interests; ;
- Pursuing a joint agreement to secure a long-term, open-ended counterterrorism partnership between the United States and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, which would include an enduring U.S. counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan; and
- Establishing U.S. military training and advisory teams at the kandak-level of each Afghan corps and significantly increasing the availability of U.S. airpower and other critical combat enablers to support ANSDF operations.
The Arizona Republican's bid for ongoing occupation comes as President Donald Trump, who has yet to sign off on the Pentagon's plans for more troops, suggests that the U.S. should be going after Afghanistan's mineral wealth and as Blackwater founder (and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sibling) Erik Prince suggests the war should be privatized.
It also comes as civilian deaths in the country are at record high levels, with women and children taking a particular toll.
"It shouldn't be surprising that the impact of a new war escalation on Afghan civilians was missing from McCain's proposed strategy," said Phyllis Bennis, a Middle East analyst and fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. "His amendment makes clear that 'The goal of this strategy is to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a sanctuary for terrorists to plot and conduct attacks against America, our allies, or our interests.' It has nothing to do with protecting Afghans from the violence of decades of U.S. wars," she said to Common Dreams.
Referring again to the language of the proposed amendment, Bennis said, "The only concern for human life in McCain's version of a Trumpian 'America First' war in Afghanistan comes in the need of 'America's Armed Forces in harm's way in Afghanistan [who] deserve leadership from Washington worthy of their service and sacrifice. Adopting a clear policy and strategy in Afghanistan, backed with the authorities and resources necessary for success, would be a critical step toward restoring that kind of leadership, which has been absent for far too long.' Period, full stop. If more thousands of Afghans, particularly women and children, are killed by those deserving American troops, so be it. McCain doesn't mind. On that score, his military strategy competition with President Trump comes out a draw," she continued.
Such casualties continued on Thursday in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar when a U.S. airstrike reportedly struck a civilian vehicle.
Saaz Wali Shinwari, the district governor of Haska Mina in Nangarhar province, said to Agence France-Presse, "Eleven people were killed and one wounded. All the victims, which included women and children, were civilians and they were from one family."
"The victims were beyond recognition, and they were placed inside the sacks and were buried late last night," Shinwari told AFP.
Referring to Prince's plans, and offering a rebuttal to the kind of approach McCain is advocating, author and activist Sonali Kolhatkar writes: "Neither the Pentagon nor a high-profile mercenary is capable of ending the harrowing war in Afghanistan. Ordinary Afghans—who are always left out of the calculations of American experts—are the first to suffer and the last to be included in war plans. All that the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan today is adding to the violence through its sheer presence in the country."
This post has been updated to include comments from Bennis.