McCain: 'I Hope We Can We Move Forward With' Long-Term U.S. Military Presence in Afghanistan

By Nicholas Ballasy and Edwin Mora | July 1, 2011 | 3:32 PM EDT

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)( Starr)

( - Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Thursday that he believes that Afghan President Hamid Karzai would like to forge a long-term relationship with the United States that would take the form of joint U.S-Afghan military bases in Afghanistan and that McCain would like to see such a proposal consummated.

“I do believe that President Karzai is very interested in a long-term relationship with the United States and that means some kind of joint-basing arrangement or some kind of security agreement,” McCain said. “I think that could really have a very big impact on President Karzai and I hope we can move forward with that proposal.”

McCain was appearing with Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) at a forum sponsored by the Institute for the Study of War that was held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Both McCain and Lieberman said they are worried about the impact President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw 33,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 2012 will have on the U.S. mission in the region.

U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, the top-commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told lawmakers on March 15 that the U.S. is planning to maintain jointly-operated bases and conduct joint counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan beyond 2014 when Afghan forces are expected to be in charge of their own security.

During a discussion at the Newseum, Lieberman and McCain were asked if the U.S. could still achieve success in Afghanistan given Obama’s troop drawdown decision.

“I’m very, very, very worried and so these decisions were made without recommendations from our military,” responded by McCain. “The commander in chief is the commander in chief. I understand that he makes his decisions based on a broad variety of input but I know of no military expert that I know of that believes that this was a wise decision to base withdraw on a calendar rather than conditions on the ground.”

“There are some risks that I worry about that are taken in the drawdown schedule that really could have been altered quite easily,” added Lieberman. “I mean, generally speaking all of us agree that the 33,000 surge troops should be out if I could put it this way, as soon as possible after the end of the next fighting season. To demand that they come out in September, all you have to do is move that forward a couple of months and it would be a lot less risk.”

In December 2009, President Obama announced that he was increasing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan by 30,000 troops and promised that he would begin drawing down troops in July 2011 if ground conditions allowed it. With those troops, the number of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan increased to approximately 100,000.

On June 2, the president announced that 10,000 troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of this year and another 23,000 by September 2012. This draw down will leave behind about 60,000 U.S. troops, which is still twice the amount of troops in Afghanistan under the previous administration.