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McCain's dire outlook on Afghanistan

From NBC's Lauren Appelbaum and Ashley Codianni

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain delivered a chilling address at the American Enterprise Institute, reminding his audience the depth of resources required in Afghanistan. He talked of the stark realities of Afghanistan's situation, identifying significant increases in civilian fatalities, insurgent attacks, and influence of the Taliban throughout the country.
McCain approved of Obama's 17,000-troop increase to Afghanistan. But he stressed that increase alone would not lead to success.
 
"I have to give straight talk and that is I think things are going to get worse in Afghanistan before they get better," McCain said this afternoon. "And so I think that it's very important that the President and members of Congress and other people in leadership and respected positions inform the American people that it's going to be a long and hard and tough." 
 
McCain outlined seven areas in addition to higher troop levels that are needed in order to win the war in Afghanistan: reapply the principles of counterinsurgency, help the Afghans fight the Taliban, change alliance diplomacy, increase and reform non-military assistance, get control of the narcotics problem, work regionally, and communicate the stakes and the challenges to the American people.
 
The Arizona senator said the war in Afghanistan is likely to be even longer than the war in Iraq. "Unlike Iraq, where the surge of troops conducting counterinsurgency operations, combined with a quickly spreading Anbar Awakening, transformed the country in less than a year, Afghanistan is likely to be harder and longer. ... The scale of resources required to prevail will be enormous, and the timetable will be measured in years, not months."
 
McCain insisted this war is necessary but said he is confident of victory. "I know Americans are weary of war. I'm weary of it. But we must win the war in Afghanistan. The alternative is to risk that country's return to its previous function as a terrorist sanctuary, from which al Qaeda could train and plan attacks against America."
 
He also stressed the Afghan army is too small to solve its problems on their own and called for the world to join America in helping Afghanistan.
 
"For years the Afghans have been telling us they need a bigger army, and they are right," McCain said. "After all, their country is more populous and significantly larger than Iraq ... The costs of this increase, however, should not be borne by American taxpayers alone. Insecurity in Afghanistan is the world's problem, and the world should share the costs."
 
During Q&A, McCain later outlined options for allies to help with reconstruction teams, economic aid, and training of Afghan police.
 
"We need our allies," he said. "We are grateful for them."
 
He even called on non-NATO allies such as the Japanese to help. "We all know this strategy is not just military victory. It has many other components."
 
McCain also stressed the importance of working with Pakistan as a regional ally.
 
"For too long we have viewed Pakistan as important because of our goals in Afghanistan," McCain said. "Yet Pakistan is not simply important because of Afghanistan; Pakistan is important because of Pakistan. We cannot simply subordinate our Pakistan strategy to our Afghanistan policy."
 
When asked if America should have troops in Pakistan, McCain replied, "you'd have to have the scenario where the Pakistani government would want us there."
 
"Pakistan has enormous economic difficulties as we speak, and their army still is not trained and equipped to fight the kind of insurgency that they are facing on the Afghan border. I cannot imagine a scenario where the Pakistani government and people would want the United States troops on Pakistani soil."
 
McCain fielded a variety of questions, including one that left the audience surprised. When asked if the Russians are actively looking to undermine the United States in Afghanistan, McCain paused before answering.
 
"I think that the Russians are playing a role that's not helpful," he replied after audience laughter. "But at the same time it would hard for me to be convinced that they want us to fail there. They've had an experience there as we all know. And I'm not sure that they don't view the rise of or the country that's taken over by extremist organizations wouldn't in the long run pose a danger to their security. ... I think that their short term goals are probably to cause us difficulties, but I still, maybe being an eternal optimist, try to attempt to find areas of common ground."
 
The one thing McCain made clear during his speech and Q&A is his grave concern about Afghanistan and the war in the region. "This war will take time and commitment, and it will not be easy," McCain said at the end of his speech. "But as it has so often before, history - and the world - will look to America for courage and resolve."