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Key US Lawmaker Urges Change in Strategy for Afghanistan

U.S. Senator John McCain, who lost his bid for the White House to Barack Obama last year, is calling for a change in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. In a Washington speech, the Arizona Republican warned that the United States could lose the war if it does not change course.

McCain offered a grim assessment of the war in Afghanistan in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy research organization in Washington.

"When you are not winning in this kind of war, you are losing," said Senator McCain. "And in Afghanistan today, we are not winning."

McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, welcomed President Barack Obama's decision to send another 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to respond to the worsening violence there. But he said victory would require a new strategy.

"More troops alone cannot lead to success," he said. "A major change in course is long overdue."

Among the steps he proposed, McCain said the United States and its allies should help the Afghan army increase its ranks.

"At a minimum, we need to more than double the current size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops, and consider enlarging it to 200,000," said McCain.

McCain proposed increasing U.S. nonmilitary assistance to Afghanistan and expanding U.S. efforts to help Kabul fight corruption and crack down on the illicit drug trade.

He underscored the importance of a regional approach to Afghanistan, with a special focus on Pakistan. The senator called for empowering the new civilian government in Pakistan to defeat radicalism with greater support for development, health and education, and for more U.S. aid to tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. He said the United States should help strengthen both the Pakistani army and local tribes in the border region who are willing to fight terrorists.

McCain said there has been frustration between the United States and NATO allies over U.S. pressure for more European combat forces in Afghanistan. He said the time has come for a change in alliance diplomacy.

"While I believe the United States should continue to encourage European troop contributions and press for the reduction of caveats on their use, I also believe we should move away from stressing what Washington wants Europe to give, and more toward encouraging what Europe is prepared to contribute," he said.

McCain said political leaders in Europe and the United States must be frank with their citizens about the situation in Afghanistan.

"The violence is likely to get worse before it gets better," said McCain. "The scale of resources required to prevail will be enormous and the timetable will be measured in years, not months."

The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on strategic options for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Thursday, and Senator McCain is expected to be on hand.