WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama should begin only a “very modest” withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan next month and not bring home any combat troops, senior US Senator John McCain said Wednesday.
“I’m in exact agreement with (US Defense) Secretary Gates that it should be very modest,” McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters.
“He said, basically, no combat troops and that’s what I agree with,” McCain said amid a political battle in the US Congress over the size and speed of Obama’s planned withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat, reportedly said Tuesday that he hoped the president would move to withdraw some 15,000 US troops from the war-torn country by the end of the year.
Asked about that figure, McCain replied “I think if you want to lose…” then turned to warn that US forces had made strides towards stabilizing southern Afghanistan, a traditional stronghold of the Islamist Taliban militia.
“We still have the eastern part of Afghanistan to do, that will require some more time,” said the senator, who urged Obama to detail his plans “soon” for the coming withdrawal.
Gates has rebutted those who argue the death last month of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and a worrisome US budget deficit require a major reduction in the 100,000-strong US force in Afghanistan.
“We’ve still got a ways to go,” Gates said of the war effort.
“I think we shouldn’t let up on the gas too much, at least for the next few months,” he told troops Monday at a base in the eastern province of Ghazni.
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