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Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., poses with U.S. servicemembers at NATO's Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul on Tuesday, July 4, 2017.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., poses with U.S. servicemembers at NATO's Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., poses with U.S. servicemembers at NATO's Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul on Tuesday, July 4, 2017.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., poses with U.S. servicemembers at NATO's Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Gail Stockman poses with a medal she received for her achievements on Tuesday, July 4, 2017.

Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Gail Stockman poses with a medal she received for her achievements on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Newly-promoted Marine Corps Lt. Col. Natalie M. Trogus speaks with guests at an Independence Day ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, July 4, 2017.

Newly-promoted Marine Corps Lt. Col. Natalie M. Trogus speaks with guests at an Independence Day ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Stephenie Jonas-Sullivan, a U.S. citizen who advises the Afghan Interior Ministry on gender issues, dresses in red, white and blue at an Independence Day ceremony at NATO's Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, July 4, 2017.

Stephenie Jonas-Sullivan, a U.S. citizen who advises the Afghan Interior Ministry on gender issues, dresses in red, white and blue at an Independence Day ceremony at NATO's Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and)

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, promotes Army Maj. Samuel Fuller, right, to lieutenant colonel at a ceremony in Kabul to mark Independence Day on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brenton Almeida, center, was promoted to master sergeant at the event.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, promotes Army Maj. Samuel Fuller, right, to lieutenant colonel at a ceremony in Kabul to mark Independence Day on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brenton Almeida, center, was promoted to master sergeant at the event. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Gail Stockman, from left, Air Force Staff Sgt. Joel Adamson, Army Capt. Benjamin Murray and Army Maj. Jacqueline Newell wait to be awarded medals  from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at a ceremony at NATO's Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul on Tuesday, July 4, 2017.

Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Gail Stockman, from left, Air Force Staff Sgt. Joel Adamson, Army Capt. Benjamin Murray and Army Maj. Jacqueline Newell wait to be awarded medals from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at a ceremony at NATO's Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Gen. John Nicholson, left, commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, welcomes Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., not pictured, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., to NATO's Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, July 4, 2017 to mark the U.S.'s Independence Day.

Gen. John Nicholson, left, commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, welcomes Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., not pictured, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., to NATO's Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, July 4, 2017 to mark the U.S.'s Independence Day. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Australian Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Cath Harvey poses with U.S. sailors at NATO's Resolute Support Headquarters on Tuesday, July 4, 2017.

Australian Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Cath Harvey poses with U.S. sailors at NATO's Resolute Support Headquarters on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speak to reporters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. 

Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speak to reporters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

KABUL, Afghanistan — A group of U.S. senators celebrated Independence Day on Tuesday in Afghanistan, where they met with American servicemembers and said major changes were needed to win the war.

“We cannot think of a better way to celebrate our nation’s independence than to be here with so many of our fellow citizens who are sacrificing every day to keep us safe and to give the people of Afghanistan a chance to secure their own independence,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters at NATO’s Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul.

McCain presided over the promotion of three servicemembers during an outdoor ceremony Tuesday, and four other servicemembers were awarded medals for their achievements.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., accompanied McCain.

“It means a lot to us,” Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Gail Stockman, who earned an achievement medal, said of the senators’ visit.

A wife and mother of two, Stockman said the importance of the mission made it easier to be away from her family on the holiday.

“I would like to believe that we are making a difference here and that we can one day stabilize this place so that [Afghans] can enjoy the comfort that we do in the United States,” she said.

Newly promoted Marine Corps Lt. Col. Natalie M. Trogus, also a wife and a mother of three, said while she would have enjoyed seeing her family and fireworks on Independence Day, the senators’ support and the camaraderie among troops helped ease feelings of homesickness.

“It’s still great to be with my fellow brothers and sisters here serving the government of Afghanistan and working alongside our Afghan brothers and sisters,” she said.

Servicemembers from all branches of the military as well as American civilians and troops from other coalition countries attended the ceremony and had an opportunity to meet the senators. A barbecue was held shortly afterward.

McCain presided over the promotion of three U.S. servicemembers during an Independence Day ceremony at NATO’s Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul on Tuesday. Four other servicemembers were awarded medals for their achievements.

Promotions Army Lt. Col. Samuel Fuller, promoted from major Marine Lt. Col. Natalie M. Trogus, promoted from major Air Force Master Sgt. Brenton Almeida, promoted from technical sergeant

Achievement medals Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Gail Stockman Air Force Staff Sgt. Joel Adamson Army Capt. Benjamin Murray Army Maj. Jacqueline Newell

Stephenie Jonas-Sullivan, a U.S. citizen who advises the Afghan Interior Ministry on gender issues, said she enjoyed spending the Fourth of July in Kabul.

“It’s actually quite gratifying to be in Afghanistan and to be a free American and model the behavior that we hope to see here in colleagues, counterparts, men and women,” said Jonas-Sullivan, who was wearing a dress that looked like an American flag. “I love being in a capacity where I can help the plight of women here.”

The senators — who met Afghan leaders earlier in the day — commended the work of American troops and civilians in Afghanistan, but said Washington must make changes to turn the current “stalemate” into a victory.

“None of us would say that we’re on a course for success here in Afghanistan,” McCain said. “That needs to change quickly.”

The security situation in Afghanistan has steadily deteriorated since NATO ended combat operations in 2014. The Taliban now control more territory than at any other time since 2001, when a U.S.-led invasion ousted the group from power.

The senators’ visit comes as the Trump administration is expected to announce a new strategy for Afghanistan, which is expected to include the deployment of up to 5,000 more U.S. troops, adding to the roughly 8,400 who are currently in the country mostly in training and advising roles.

Graham said he hopes the new strategy will allow American air power to be used against the Taliban more often and that any military surge will be accompanied by a “diplomatic surge.”

“We are woefully understaffed in the State Department side,” Graham said, “which is just as important as surge in military assets.” The Trump administration has not yet appointed an ambassador to Afghanistan.

Graham said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s “lack of focus” on Afghanistan is “very unnerving,” adding that the senators will press Tillerson to visit Afghanistan to assess the situation himself.

wellman.phillip@stripes.com Twitter: @PhillipWellman

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Phillip is a reporter and photographer for Stars and Stripes, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From 2016 to 2021, he covered the war in Afghanistan from Stripes’ Kabul bureau. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics.

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