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McCain Blocks Trump Defense Nominees To Get Afghan War Information

U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (file photo)
U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (file photo)

U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain has said that he'll hold up President Donald Trump's nominees for Defense Department posts until the Pentagon provides more information on its new Afghan war strategy.

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on October 17, McCain said his committee needed details of the strategy so it can provide the U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan with appropriate training and equipment.

McCain deplored what he said was a lack of communication from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and accused the administration of treating Congress as a lesser branch of government despite its power over spending under the U.S. Constitution.

"I had a better working relationship [with President Barack Obama's Defense Secretary Ash Carter] than I do with an old friend of 20 years," McCain said of Mattis.

McCain said though he and Carter often disagreed, "there was a lot of communications" between them. He contrasted that with a lack of information from the Pentagon under Trump.

"I think they had this idea, once that Trump won, that we are a unicameral government...and that they don't have to respond to what the constitution says," McCain said.

"We will not sit by without having a complete understanding of what is going on," he said.

Trump outlined his plan for Afghanistan in August, declaring that U.S. troops would "fight to win" by adding about 3,500 U.S. troops, attacking enemies, and "crushing" militant groups.

But McCain said it remained unclear how such a modest increase in troop strength could turn the tide in Afghanistan when that goal couldn't be achieved by tens of thousands of U.S. forces earlier in the war.

Trump also announced a shift in strategy that would link assistance in the future to getting results on the battlefield and to cooperation from the Kabul government and Pakistan.

McCain said he wanted to know specifically what Trump's conditions are for providing assistance. He said he was also seeking answers for how and when Trump would accomplish his goal of a political settlement in Afghanistan that includes elements of the Taliban.

McCain's demands come amid a renewed breakout of violence by the Taliban, which launched a string of suicide attacks on October 17 that killed at least 74 people.

They also come as missile strikes by suspected U.S. drones have killed more than 30 Taliban militants hiding in a border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent days.

A Senate website shows 17 Defense Department nominations pending before the Senate committee could be affected by McCain's blockade. Among them are Mark Esper, the nominee for army secretary, and Joseph Kernan, the nominee for undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

While vowing to block nominees until the Pentagon provides more information, McCain has made some exceptions. McCain's committee and the full Senate last month confirmed Marine General Joseph Dunford for a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And on October 17, the Senate confirmed David Trachtenberg to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense. McCain said he did not block Trachtenberg's nomination because he was “partially satisfied with [the Pentagon's] commitment to provide us with answers to the questions.”

With reporting by AP and

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