McCain: ‘If We Quit Afghanistan’ Consequences ‘Will Be Disastrous

By Melanie Arter | March 22, 2012 | 5:05 PM EDT

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) (AP File Photo)

( - Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday that "if we quit Afghanistan as we did in the 1990s," the consequences will be "disastrous" for both countries.

The Pentagon is expected to drawdown U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 68,000 in September – a faster pace than U.S. military commanders have recommended.

“The painful lesson we learned on Sept. 11, 2001 remains as true today as then: What happens in Afghanistan has a direct impact on our safety here at home. If we quit Afghanistan again as we did in the 1990s and abandon the millions of Afghans who have risked everything to be our allies in the hopes of succeeding together, the consequences will be disastrous for us both,” he said during a Senate Armed Services Committee.

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McCain urged the Obama administration to resist “the short-sighted calls for additional troop reductions, which are a guarantee of failure.” Instead of moving forward with the troop drawdown , Obama should “pause” in September so that he can “assess” the impact of such a move, the Arizona senator said in his opening statement.

“It would be much better to maintain the 68,000 forces through the next season’s fighting season, probably longer,” he said.

“I know that much of the recent news from Afghanistan has been discouraging, and that has only increased the desire of a war-weary public to end our mission there. However, none of this changes the vital security interests that are at stake in Afghanistan. Nor does it mean the war is lost – it is not. There’s still a realistic path to success if the right decisions are made in the coming months,” McCain said.

McCain noted that “significant military progress” has been made on the ground in Afghanistan.

“Four years ago, southern Afghanistan was overrun by the Taliban, and our coalition backed both the resources and the strategy necessary to break the momentum. Today, the situation has reversed. Similarly, our effort to build the Afghan National Security forces has been completely overhauled. The result is growing numbers of Afghan units that are capable of leading the fight,” he added.

“The few Afghan soldiers who have turned their weapons on our troops should not obscure the larger fact – that hundreds of thousands of Afghans are fighting everyday as our faithful allies in a common fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and these Afghan patriots are being wounded and killed in greater numbers than our forces,” McCain said.

U.S. efforts in Afghanistan are already being “undermined by the perception that the United States will abandon Afghanistan once again,” he said. “This creates incentives for the Taliban to keep fighting, for the Pakistan Army to hedge its bets by supporting the Taliban, and for our Afghan allies to make counterproductive decisions based on fears of what a post-American future will bring.”