During a press conference in Pennsylvania today, New York Times reporter John Broder asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) if he shared the concern of “senior Pentagon officials” about the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and if the U.S. has the “resources to devote to fighting those enemies there given the surge in Iraq.” “Yes and yes,” replied McCain brusquely.
McCain then began to take another question, but broke it off to “elaborate a bit” on the situation in Afghanistan. “To somehow think that it’s an either or situation, either Afghanistan or Iraq, is a fundamental misreading of the situation in the Middle East,” said McCain.
He then said “it’s not just a matter of more troops”:
MCCAIN: It’s not an either or situation. We need to succeed in Iraq and I am confident that we can succeed in Afghanistan. But it’s not just a matter of more troops. It is a matter of a whole lot of other factors, including those, and not exclusive to those ones that I just outlined.
McCain’s claims are at odds with the opinion of top military leaders, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen. Just last week, Mullen said that Afghanistan is “an economy-of-force campaign,” which means that “we don’t have enough forces there.”
Mullen added that his ability to address the troop issues in Afghanistan is “constrained” by Iraq:
“In the last six or seven months, we have a put a tremendous amount of focus on Afghanistan, and I think rightfully so,” he said. “It is an economy-of-force campaign, and by definition, that means we don’t have enough forces there.
“I am constrained on forces I can generate quite frankly because of Iraq,” Mullen stated. “Afghanistan is a significant challenge and is going to take a significant period of time.”
Following a recent trip to Afghanistan, NBC’s Brian Williams reported last week that “several U.S. commanders complained” to the network that they lack “resources, aircraft, soldiers and support because of the war in Iraq.” According to the Los Angeles Times, “commanders believe that three brigades, or about 10,000 troops, are necessary” in Afghanistan.
While there certainly are “other factors” to al Qaeda’s resurgence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, McCain is contradicting the views of top military officials when he downplays the need for more troops in Afghanistan and says we currently have enough resources to fight both there and in Iraq.