Senators push for more troops in Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) - A bipartisan delegation of U.S. senators visiting Afghanistan on Tuesday called for a new strategy from the Trump administration to turn the tide against an increasingly strong Taliban insurgency and end the longest war in U.S. history.

The delegation led by Senator John McCain was in Kabul on a regional trip that included two days in neighboring Pakistan.

The visit preceded an expected Trump review later in the month of the strategy for the United States' longest war, now in its 16th year, a subject that was largely absent from last year's presidential campaign.

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Taliban attack on military base in Afghanistan
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Taliban attack on military base in Afghanistan
Afghan national Army (ANA) troops keep watch near the site of an ongoing attack on an army headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif, northern Afghanistan April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Anil Usyan
An Afghan national Army (ANA) soldier receives treatment at a hospital a day after a attack on an army headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif northern Afghanistan April 22, 2017. REUTERS/Anil Usyan TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Afghan national Army (ANA) troops arrive near the site of an ongoing attack on an army headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif northern Afghanistan April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Anil Usyan
A wounded Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier lies on a bed in the ward of a hospital in Mazar-i-Sharif on April 22, 2017, as he receives treatment following an attack that targeted an army compound in the northern Afghan province of Balkh. More than 100 Afghan soldiers have been killed and wounded in a coordinated Taliban attack on an army base in northern Afghanistan, the country's defence ministry said. 'The majority of our soldiers were offering Friday prayers' at the time of the assault, the ministry said in a statement, adding that 'over 100 Afghan army forces were martyred and wounded'. / AFP PHOTO / FARSHAD USYAN (Photo credit should read FARSHAD USYAN/AFP/Getty Images)
BALKH, AFGHANISTAN - APRIL 22: Ambulances carry people, who got wounded on Taliban fighters' attack to the 209th Corps, to hospitals in Balkh province, Afghanistan on April 22, 2017. (Photo by Sayed Khodaberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A wounded Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier lies on a bed in the ward of a hospital in Mazar-i-Sharif on April 22, 2017, as he receives treatment following an attack that targeted an army compound in the northern Afghan province of Balkh. More than 100 Afghan soldiers have been killed and wounded in a coordinated Taliban attack on an army base in northern Afghanistan, the country's defence ministry said. 'The majority of our soldiers were offering Friday prayers' at the time of the assault, the ministry said in a statement, adding that 'over 100 Afghan army forces were martyred and wounded'. / AFP PHOTO / FARSHAD USYAN (Photo credit should read FARSHAD USYAN/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on April 21, 2017, an Afghan security official stands alert near the site of attack on an army compound in Dihdadi District of Balkh province . More than 100 Afghan soldiers have been killed and wounded in a coordinated Taliban attack on an army base in northern Afghanistan, the country's defence ministry said. 'The majority of our soldiers were offering Friday prayers' at the time of the assault, the ministry said in a statement, adding that 'over 100 Afghan army forces were martyred and wounded'. / AFP PHOTO / FARSHAD USYAN (Photo credit should read FARSHAD USYAN/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on April 21, 2017, Afghan security personnel stand guard near the site of attack on an army compound in Dihdadi District of Balkh province . More than 100 Afghan soldiers have been killed and wounded in a coordinated Taliban attack on an army base in northern Afghanistan, the country's defence ministry said. 'The majority of our soldiers were offering Friday prayers' at the time of the assault, the ministry said in a statement, adding that 'over 100 Afghan army forces were martyred and wounded'. / AFP PHOTO / FARSHAD USYAN (Photo credit should read FARSHAD USYAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Afghan security personnel keep watch near the site of an ongoing attack on an army compound in Dihdadi District of Balkh province on April 21, 2017. At least eight Afghan soldiers have been killed and 11 wounded during an ongoing Taliban attack on their base in northern Afghanistan, the defence ministry said.�'Gunmen wearing Afghan army uniforms have launched a complex attack on an army compound in the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif',capital of Balkh province, ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told AFP. / AFP PHOTO / FARSHAD USYAN (Photo credit should read FARSHAD USYAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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Since the exit of most foreign troops in 2014, Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government has lost ground to a Taliban insurgency in a war that kills and maims thousands of civilians each year and has made Afghanistan the second-ranking country in people seeking refugee status abroad last year, behind Syria.

McCain said in a Kabul press briefing on Tuesday at NATO-coalition headquarters that "none of us would say that we are on a course to success here in Afghanistan".

"That needs to change and quickly," added McCain, a sharp critic of Trump within their Republican party.

McCain was accompanied by U.S. senators Lindsey Graham, Elizabeth Warren, Sheldon Whitehouse and David Perdue on the regional tour.

Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, said she came to get "the view on the ground about what is happening" in Afghanistan.

"We need a strategy in the United States that defines our role in Afghanistan, defines our objective and explains how we can get from here to there," Warren said.

U.S. officials have told Reuters that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will present Trump with strategic options for Afghanistan by mid-July.

Last month, Trump gave Mattis the authority to set American troop levels in Afghanistan, but as commander in chief Trump must sign off on an overall strategy for the war.

U.S. security officials have privately said the most likely options will be to increase training and air support by 3,000-5,000 troops for still-inexperienced Afghan security forces, while also tracking down al Qaeda, Islamic State and other global Islamist militants based in Afghanistan.

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, has said "several thousand" more foreign troops – mostly trainers - are needed to break a military stalemate with the Taliban.

In 2001, a U.S.-backed military intervention in Afghanistan toppled the Taliban regime, whose ultra-hardline interpretation of sharia (Islamic law) banned most women from public life and executed people not seen as sufficiently pious, such as men with beards not considered long enough.

More than 15 years later, around 10,000 U.S. and allied troops remain in Afghanistan to support an elected government that has increasingly been losing ground to a Taliban insurgency that now controls or contests some 40 percent of territory.

(Writing by Kay Johnson; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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