Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., expressed concerns about troop levels in Afghanistan during an Armed Services Committee hearing Monday, less than 48 hours after the ruling coalition in the Netherlands collapsed when that government sought to sustain its 2,000-troop commitment past August.
McCain, the ranking member of the committee, grilled Michèle Flournoy, undersecretary of Defense for policy, about her plan to make up for the expected shortfall. He bristled at her suggestion that the new Dutch government might be open to contributing enough noncombat forces to make up the difference.
"Look, we might as well face up to the fact... that the Dutch are leaving. That's why their government collapsed," McCain said. "We have to deal with realities of what the actual allied contribution is going to be. And very frankly, Madam Secretary, to believe that they're going to make up that difference I think is very different from the realities of their domestic political situation."
McCain seemed to direct his criticism at least in part toward President Obama, mentioning twice that the president had granted Gen. Stanley McChrystal a 30,000-troop boost, short of the 40,000 troops that the head of NATO forces had requested.
Another big Afghanistan news item from the weekend -- the accidental killing of 27 civilians by an American attack helicopter, the worst such episode since at least September -- was only briefly mentioned at the hearing.
"Although there have been isolated instances of regrettable civilian casualties, we have the Taliban use civilians as human shields in some cases," Lt. Gen. John Paxton said in his opening remarks, adding later that according to ground commanders, civilians are "broadly on our side."
The accidental deaths come as NATO forces have begun an aggressive offensive called Operation Moshtarak -- Dari for "together" -- launched Feb. 13. Moshtarak is part of McChrystal's strategy to defeat Taliban insurgents in targeted areas and then leave troops behind to support Afghan police and government officials as they rebuild local government.
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