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McCain calls on Obama to clarify US drawdown in Afghanistan

KABUL (AFP) – US Senator John McCain on Wednesday urged President Barack Obama to clarify plans for troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, saying setting a deadline was confusing and had boosted the Taliban.

"It was wrong to set the date of July" next year, McCain told a news conference at the US Embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul. "It sent out the wrong message and it created a problem.

"We need to have the president of the United States state unequivocally that it will be solely condition-based and so, I worry a great about the effect, not only here but it encourages our enemies and it discourages our plans."

The United States is committed to drawing down its forces in Afghanistan from next July, a senior official in Washington said last week, but the "pace" of the transfer of powers to Afghan forces was currently being studied.

An annual review of the US strategy in Afghanistan is being prepared to help Obama and his national security team make an assessment about the handover. The report is expected in late December or early January.

McCain and Senator Joe Lieberman, part of a four-strong US delegation visiting Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the July 2011 date had been misinterpreted as a full withdrawal of troops, including by the Taliban.

Lieberman said that the "overwhelming majority" of politicians on both sides of the US Congress understood that any withdrawal would be dependent on conditions on the ground and not all US troops would come home.

"The president himself just said about a month ago, we're going to stay here in Afghanistan until the job is done," Lieberman told reporters. "I think members of Congress understand that completely."

McCain, Lieberman and senators Lindsey Graham and Kirsten Gillibrand earlier met the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, and held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The delegation said progress had been made since a surge of 30,000 troops earlier this year but expressed concern that rampant corruption and a lack of good governance could jeopardise further gains in the conflict-wracked country.

From Kabul, they fly to Pakistan, where they said they will raise concerns about insurgents operating "with impunity" against US and NATO forces from across the porous border with Afghanistan.

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