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McCain: Afghan troop drawdown must be based on ground conditions, not tied to a certain date

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The ongoing Taliban offensive in Afghanistan demands a reassessment of the Obama administration's current plan to drawdown U.S. forces, U.S. Sen. John McCain said Saturday during a visit to the country's capital.

The Republican told reporters that Afghan national forces are fighting bravely, but suffering heavy losses in the field.

American and international troops have already stopped playing a combat role, remaining as trainers for local forces. The international numbers will be reduced further at the end of 2016. But McCain said reductions should be based on conditions on the ground.

"With the rise of ISIS and the distinct fighting season that is marked this year, the threat environment continues to evolve in ways that clearly, in my view, demands a reassessment of the administration's current calendar-driven drawdown of U.S. forces with a plan that must be based on conditions on the ground," McCain said.

Meanwhile, Afghan lawmakers rejected President Ashraf Ghani's nominee for defense minister, a position that has remained empty for more than nine months amid some of the toughest fighting since the Taliban insurgency began 14 years ago. Masoom Stanekzai received 84 out of the 107 votes needed for parliamentary approval.

Stanekzai's rejection reflects in part a power struggle between Ghani and Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Stanekzai, the second nominee put forth by Ghani to be rejected, is also seen by some to be ineffective, based on the chaotic security situation around the country.

Stanekzai led the High Peace Council negotiating body charged with ending the conflict with the Taliban. He has been serving as the country's top defense official in an acting capacity.

In January, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi also failed to get enough votes in parliament. It could be months before a new nominee for the position is put forth.

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