KABUL – US Senator John McCain said Monday that incoming commander General David Petraeus could tweak the way the war is fought on the ground in Afghanistan, following two days of talks and battlefield tours.
The former US presidential candidate said the new commander of the 140,000 US and NATO soldiers had indicated there could be adjustments to the rules of engagement with the war bogged down after almost nine years.
"General Petraeus is reviewing the entire rules of engagement and probably there will be some tweaking. We got that impression from him," McCain told reporters in a press conference at a Kabul airport.
Petraeus arrived in Kabul on Friday to take over NATO's 47-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from US General Stanley McChrystal, sacked last month by President Barack Obama for insubordination.
Troops have complained that McChrystal's "courageous restraint" rule, aimed at minimising civilian casualties, prevents them from properly defending themselves -- thus contributing to a spike in military casualties.
But the veteran Republican senator said he believed the counter-insurgency would succeed following the deployment of thousands more troops to the Taliban heartland of Kandahar.
"The counter-insurgency is just beginning to succeed. We do have the right strategy in Kandahar. Kandahar is the key to a successful strategy, but I believe it is just beginning," McCain said.
"There will be more difficult times, and in the short term casualties will go up," he added.
A total of 102 foreign soldiers died in June, almost triple the May toll and far outstripping the previous highest monthly figure of 77 in August.
McCain visited Afghanistan with fellow Senators Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, who all sit on the influential US Armed Services Committee.
They said they discussed Kandahar, corruption and governance issues with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over dinner.
A statement from the president's office said Petraeus and US ambassador Karl Eikenberry joined the meeting, in which they assured Karzai of continued US support.
All three senators also used their press briefing to say they opposed a move in the US House of Representatives last week to block nearly four billion dollars of aid to Afghanistan after media reports of extreme corruption.
"The funds on the table are vitally important for this mission to work," Graham said.
Karzai, whose office rejected the graft allegations as "baseless", had assured the senators the Afghan government would cooperate to tackle corruption, McCain said.
"We think it would be a very serious mistake (to withdraw the aid) and it won't happen," McCain said. "But it is a concern."
Transparency International, a watchdog, has ranked Afghanistan as the world's most corrupt nation -- worse even than Somalia, which has no effective government.
After taking office last year, the Obama administration pressed Karzai on allegations of corruption and vote-rigging. But it has become more discreet with its concerns after the Afghan leader lashed out at the United States.
The senators also used the press conference to reiterate criticism of the July 2011 target to begin pulling US troops out of Afghanistan, saying that setting a firm date for withdrawal would raise questions about US commitment.
© AFP 2013