KABUL, Afghanistan — A senior American lawmaker called Tuesday for permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan to safeguard American security interests in a region that includes Iran as well as nuclear-armed Pakistan and China.
Sen. John McCain, part of a five-strong U.S. Senate delegation which held talks with President Hamid Karzai, said he was committed to a “strategic partnership that we believe must endure for many, many years.
“Not only for the good of the Afghan people, but also for the good of the American people because of the long-term security interests that we have in the region,”? McCain told reporters at the presidential palace in the Afghan capital.
Asked what such a partnership would entail, he said: “Economic assistance, technical assistance, military partnership including — and this is a personal view — joint military permanent bases and also cultural exchanges.”?
McCain, the No. 2 Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, didn’t elaborate, and Karzai didn’t address the issue at a joint news conference.
Afghanistan’s neighbors include Pakistan to the east, Iran to the west and China to the northeast.
Officials from the Afghan government and the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan told The Associated Press earlier this month they are examining a military partnership which could include permanent American bases here.
However, Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak has also requested high-tech weaponry such as attack helicopters and special forces for the new U.S.-trained Afghan National Army to reduce the need for foreign troops.
There are currently about 17,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, hunting remnants of al-Qaida and the former ruling Taliban.
The Afghan army, which currently numbers about 20,000 and is taking part in counterinsurgency operations in troubled areas near the Pakistani frontier, is to reach its full strength of 70,000 by the end of 2006.
Other members of the U.S. delegation, which arrived in Kabul after stops in Baghdad and Islamabad, also backed long-term U.S.-Afghan ties but gave no specifics.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, said she hoped to expand a “friendship and partnership which is very important to the United States and something that we believe very strongly is in the interests of both”? countries.
Karzai limited himself to expressing thanks.
“It is because of help from the United States that Afghanistan has what it has today: Be it in reconstruction, be it in economy, in elections, in the very fact that this is a country that is now owning itself.”?
The other senators were Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin. All but Feingold are members of the Armed Services Committee, which oversees the Defense Department budget.