OTR Interviews

McCain: Taliban attacks will get worse if the US doesn't leave stabilizing forces behind

Sen. John McCain on the Taliban-led attack on a Pakistan school that left 141 dead, the importance of 'stabilizing' US forces, a potential Jeb Bush 2016 candicacy and his new book

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 16, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: The people of Pakistan and even around the world are shocked and heart broken by the very vicious attack.

Senator John McCain joins us. Good evening, sir.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Good evening.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know when you go after civilians, everyone is horrified at the viciousness. This went to children. It gets even worse, doesn't it?

MCCAIN: It gets worse and also it's going to be a lot worse unless we leave a force behind rather than removing everybody from Afghanistan. We will see the Iraq movie again. And you will see the Taliban inflicting more of these kinds of heinous outrageous attacks and murder and mayhem that they are capable of.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, the Pakistani military is already responding. What should be -- I mean, how should the U.S. -- what should the U.S. be doing or not doing or discussing or not discussing?

MCCAIN: The United States should be talking about a stabilizing force behind in Afghanistan to give them the capabilities that they don't have right now and won't have when we, quote, "leave." It should be a conditioned space withdrawal not a date driven withdrawal. That way we can work more closely with the Pakistanis.

I have been encouraged by the new head chief of the Pakistani army. The prime minister seems to be serious. They did carry out these exercises in Waziristan against the Taliban. So I think we could get greater cooperation. But right now, they have a sanctuary and, frankly, their attacks in the winter time, which is unusual in Helmand and other places, the Taliban has stepped up those attacks. Casualties are been larger showing that we must leave a force behind.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I was in Afghanistan a couple years ago. And then I was in the room when Afghani women were promised that we would never abandon them to the Taliban. I heard it. I took notes from it. And now look -- that's exactly what we are doing. What -- what do you see as the Obama administration strategy about the Taliban? They are not good people. And we talked to them.

MCCAIN: It's the same. We're going to see the same movie we saw in Iraq, a complete pullout. And the tragedy really of another sad part of this is we now have a leader in Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan combined with Abdul, the guy second runner-up, that we are seeing a real reformist, a really strong pro-American government there. But I can tell you they are incredibly nervous, in fact, pessimistic about their chances if we pull everybody out of Afghanistan. And so we will see the Iraq movie again. And it will be tragic because, again, we wasted too much American blood and treasure.

VAN SUSTEREN: If we -- look at this area of where this happened in Peshawar, north Pakistan, with the Taliban. If we stay, what can we do? I realize what happens when we leave, but what happens if we stay?

MCCAIN: I think we can continue to assist the Iraqi military. We can coordinate more closely as the Afghans are doing right now with the Pakistani government. As you know, there was no relationship between Karzai and the Pakistanis. We can give them the much needed training, equipment, intelligence, Special Operations, particularly a small thing like Medevac. Greta, you don't know how important that is to soldiers to know, if they are wounded, they can be removed immediately from the battlefield. Right now, the Afghan military doesn't have that capability. And so there are many things that we can do. And I'm optimistic about the Afghan government. And, frankly, the Pakistani leadership has improved a lot. They are going after the Taliban, as you have just seen that response to. But I would not underestimate the Taliban, nor the Haqqani network. And we still have problems with the ISI, which is that portion of the Pakistani military which is still cooperating with the Haqqanis.

VAN SUSTEREN: You mentioned soldiers so I've got to remind everyone you have a new book out about soldiers. Tell me what it is.

MCCAIN: "13 Soldiers and 13 Conflicts," that were engaged in, ranging from a 15-year-old enlisted in Revolutionary War to an individual who in Iraq, who gave up his own life to save others. We put it in the context of the conflicts we are in and the horrors of war. We don't glorify war. We also talk about a couple African-Americans, as well as some women who fought in each one of the conflicts. And we hope the American people who read it will understand the horrors of war but also the incredible bravery of those individuals and brave Americans that participated in it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask you one political question. The news today that former Governor Jeb Bush has put his toe in the water for 2016. Your thoughts about that news?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it was predictable. I also think he is a very excellent governor of Florida. And I think he is an excellent individual. I think it would not surprise you to know that if Lindsey Graham decides to run, I'm all in for him.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: Indeed, I know.

One last thing, Dr. Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped us find bin Laden, he is still stuck in prison in Pakistan.

MCCAIN: Still stuck in prison and we continue, people like me who are friends of the Pakistanis, continue to pressure them on this issue. It is a big impediment in our relations. Have no doubt about it. But it wouldn't have happened if his identity hadn't of been leaked by the White House after they got bin Laden.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, my late colleague, Dominic Di-Natale, was always trying to do everything he could to put the spotlight on Dr. Afridi, so I'm going to pick that up a little bit.

Senator, thank you, sir.

MCCAIN: Thank you. Thank you, Greta.