That number is more than double the amount that President Obama is keeping for most of 2016, before drawing down to 5,500 by the end of the year.
Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, had prepared five different options for the president.
“Well, [the] first recommendation I’m told was 20,000,” said McCain, who has said the president should have left the current number of 9,800 or more through 2016.
But, he added, “I would have, and I think been comfortable with, say, 10,000 to 15,000. But — again — it’s very clear that what you need to do is withdraw on basic conditions, not on calendar,” he said.
McCain argued that going down to the “bare minimum” would put the lives of men and women serving in Afghanistan at greater risk.
He said a recent U.S. bombing of a hospital of Kunduz to support Afghan forces fighting Taliban on the ground — which U.S. officials say was a mistake — showed the Afghans’ continued need for support.
“They don’t have an air force. they don’t have good intelligence. They don’t have [medical evacuation] capability, for example. There are so many things that we can do in support that we would have to do,” he said.
McCain argued that one of the reasons Afghan forces were still struggling after spending 14 years there was due to a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces and a continued Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan.
He also argued that the U.S. has left troops in many countries after war, and Americans were not calling for their withdrawal since they were not dying.
“We got 38,000 troops still in Korea. We’ve got troops in Germany. We’ve got troops in Bosnia. We have left state-rising forces behind ever since World War II,” he said.
He said the alternative is chaos, such as in Libya after U.S. and allies conducted an airstrike campaign there in 2011, but did not seek to stabilize the country afterwards.
“We do expend a large amount of American treasure to maintain stability in those places,” he said, but added, “Libya is an example of what happens when you don’t.”
“it didn’t have to turn out that way in Libya. It was because we completely walked away,” he said.