From NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy
ALBUQUERQUE, NM -- Today at a "Jobs for America" town hall, McCain forcefully called for additional troops in Afghanistan for the first time in this campaign.
"Our commanders on the ground in Afghanistan say that they need at least three additional brigades," McCain said. "Thanks to the success of the surge, these forces are becoming available, and our commanders in Afghanistan must get them."
This statement suggests that McCain might consider shifting troops directly from Iraq to Afghanistan. But speaking to reporters on his bus after today's speech, McCain indicated that he'd be open to those additional troops coming from NATO.
Just last week, McCain told reporters on his bus that the problem in Afghanistan was not troop presence -- but rather the strained relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. "I think the situation in Afghanistan is very tough," McCain said then. "One of the major reasons for it is not so much troop presence as the situation on the Pakistan-Afghan border. And I've been briefed several times by military leaders, including I met just yesterday with the ambassador from Pakistan to the United States."
McCain said just one week ago that the way to solve the situation in Afghanistan was to look at "a broad variety of areas" -- none of which were an increased troop presence, but instead included some things that were absent from his speech today, including "the effectiveness of the Karzai government, ungovernable areas, ungoverned, uncontrolled areas of the Afghan-Pakistan border."
Yesterday, however, McCain left the door open for an increased troop presence in Afghanistan. But he also quickly shifted the conversation back to Iraq when asked directly about troop levels in Afghanistan. "I think we need to do whatever is necessary and that could entail more troops," he said when asked about increased troops in Afghanistan. "We need to do a lot of things in Afghanistan. A lot of this has to do with Pakistan and the safe haven areas that I have visited in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But the major point here is that Sen. Obama refuses to acknowledge that he was wrong [on Iraq]."
In addition to more troops, McCain today recommended that the Afghani army should be doubled and that as president he would establish an Afghanistan war czar, who would be located in the White House and would have complete control over military action in the country.
"Afghanistan is sufficiently important that a separate Afghanistan czar is needed," McCain said. "I'll appoint a highly-respected national security leader, based in the White House, report directly to the president, whose sole mission will be to ensure we bring the war in Afghanistan to a successful end."