McCain: Obama's Afghanistan plan puts troops at greater risk

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," July 6, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MARIA BARTIROMO, GUEST HOST: President Obama doing an about-face on pulling back our troops in Afghanistan. He is keeping around 8,400 in the country through the end of his term in office. Now, the original plan was to keep 5,500.

Reaction now from Arizona Republican Senator John McCain.

Senator, good to see you now. Thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Thank you, Maria.

BARTIROMO: Your reaction to this number, 8,400 troops?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it's better than what he had originally planned on, when basically he was going to leave an embassy-centric force behind, which would be impossible to really fight the Taliban, who have been succeeding in the last year or so.

But it's interesting, Maria. It's kind of the classic White House way of addressing an issue. All the military, every one of them, our commander in Afghanistan, all of our service chiefs, recommended 9,800, which is the level that it's at now. So somehow, somewhere in the White House, either Mr. Rhodes, that great science fiction writer, or these other with great experience, National Security Council staff, they arbitrarily reduced it to 8,400.

Now I want to know what capabilities we have lost going down from 9,800 to 8,400. What are those 1,400 billets that the military thought were very important?

So here we are again putting the men and women who are serving in greater risk because we're not complying with the recommendation of the military commanders on the ground, who, by the way, I have great confidence in. As you know, I just came back from Afghanistan.

BARTIROMO: And you have said this for a long time, that we're not listening to the generals, we're not listening to the people who are on the ground.

Do you think now the president is listening or has the threat changed?

MCCAIN: I think he's sort of listening. Again, if he had not been listening at all, he would have stayed back around 5,000.

But the pressure is enormous. The Taliban...

BARTIROMO: Well, it's hard not to with Orlando, San Bernardino, Brussels. Pardon me, Senator.

MCCAIN: No, it's just that he wanted, as you know, beginning in 2009, which, by the way, when ISIS did not exist, that to get everybody out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

If he had pulled everybody out of Afghanistan, we saw that movie in Iraq when we pulled everybody out and things went obviously to -- went to hell.  And so he is sort of trying to split the baby here. And I'm glad that it's not back down to 5,500, which he originally wanted. But it still puts the men and women in uniform at greater risk. It seems to me that's an obligation that he seems to have forgotten about.

BARTIROMO: And when you say putting them at greater risk, the bottom line is they don't have the backup, they don't have the support that is required for what they're doing.

MCCAIN: They have certain missions which the military leadership, including our commander in Afghanistan, has laid out. Those missions and capabilities, they believe, are sufficient to prevail over the Taliban actions and activities.

So when the president goes against their recommendations, and reduces by 1,400, then some of those missions and capabilities have to go away. That puts the American men and women who are serving in jeopardy, and, by the way, in greater risk.

By the way, I was over there Fourth of July. Their morale is great.  They're tough, they're strong, they're ready to do the mission. But they also know, at least at senior leadership level, that they don't have sufficient rules of engagement -- rules of engagement and numbers to carry out the task that they need to in order to prevail and stabilize Afghanistan.


And they need some clarity, by the way, also to carry out the mission.

Senator, can you characterize the threat today? I mean, we heard John Brennan from the CIA just a couple weeks ago, a week-and-a-half ago, say that ISIS is hardly contained -- in fact, we have been unable to contain them. And yet the president's narrative continues.

John Kerry just recently saying that ISIS is desperate, that they're on the run. Where are we?

MCCAIN: Well, by the way, the director of national intelligence, General Clapper, had said the same thing. These are the people that we hire who have decades of experience to give us their best estimates.

And their best estimates are is that ISIS is a long way from being defeated, that there's more attacks going to take place in America and in Europe, and that ISIS attacks will be on the increase. Obviously, they have. Look at the horrific bombing they just had in Baghdad. It's really incredible.

So, every time there is an attack, John Kerry's reaction is to say, well, they're desperate. I hope they don't get too much more desperate, particularly where the United States is concerned. It would be laughable if it wasn't so serious. They pulled everybody out of Iraq and then al Qaeda went to Syria and became ISIS, and as Paul Harvey used to say, now you know rest of the story.

And they still do not have a strategy. They still do not have a way to take Raqqa. And we're going to kill them in Raqqa or we're going to kill them here. That's our choice.


And the president still doesn't necessarily have a plan to pay for it, right? I mean, the budget issue is a separate issue, but a real one.  There is debate within the House. I know the Armed Services Committee chairman, Mac Thornberry, is demanding Obama immediately send Congress a supplemental funding request to pay for the extra troops now that he would like there.

MCCAIN: Yes. And we tried here in the Senate to get additional moneys added when we did the defense authorization bill. I regret to tell you the Senate would not pass that.

And I deeply regret to tell you that were some Republicans who voted against this. This thing called sequestration, which are across-the-board meat axe cuts, are devastating our military. Recently, a squadron of airplanes, B-2s, came back, 20 airplanes, only six of them could fly.

The story is that we have a military that is becoming unready, not unlike that like that we had after the Vietnam War. And the world is becoming more and more dangerous. I don't know how many more attacks it takes to get the attention of the president, liberal members of Congress and some Republicans, and the American people.


Senator, it's great to have on the program this afternoon. Thanks so much.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Maria.

BARTIROMO: We will be watching, Senator John McCain there.

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