Washington, D.C. (Feb. 19, 2020)—Today, Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, held a hearing to examine the final report released by the Afghanistan Study Group (ASG), which Congress established in December 2019 to “consider the implications of a peace settlement, or the failure to reach a settlement, on U.S. policy, resources, and commitments in Afghanistan.”
“Nearly 20 years of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan might very well be defined by the next three to six months—likely with profound consequences for U.S. national security and the future stability of the region,” Subcommittee Chairman Lynch said in his opening statement.
The Subcommittee heard testimony from the three co-chairs of the Afghanistan Study Group: the Honorable Kelly A. Ayotte, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr. (Ret), and the Honorable Nancy Lindborg.
At the hearing, Members discussed the many policy questions and strategic challenges facing the Biden administration as the May 1, 2021, deadline approaches for the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces from Afghanistan, as outlined in the February 2020 U.S.-Taliban agreement.
General Dunford, former Senator Ayotte, and Ms. Lindborg warned that a withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 U.S. servicemembers from Afghanistan in May 2021—as required by the Trump Administration’s February 2020 agreement with the Taliban—would result in “catastrophic” consequences for the security and stability of Afghanistan, including the potential resurgence of terrorist organizations that could threaten the U.S. homeland.
- Former Senator Ayotte testified: “We believe a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. and international troops in May would be catastrophic for Afghanistan, leading to civil war, and allow the reconstitution of terror groups which threaten the United States within an 18 to 36-month period.” Ms. Lindborg argued that if certain conditions have not been met prior to a U.S. military withdrawal on May 1, 2021, this outcome was “almost certain.”
- General Dunford explained that without a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, the United States “would not have the networks available to us from an intelligence perspective, we would not have the platform availability, that is, the systems that allow us to collect that intelligence, and we wouldn’t have the ability to strike quickly with the resources necessary to destroy terrorists once the intelligence develops their location.”
The Co-Chairs testified that it is in the national security interests of the United States for the Afghan Government and the Taliban to reach a sustainable and inclusive peace agreement that supports regional stability and protects the human rights of all Afghans, including women and girls.
- General Dunford argued that the U.S. has a strategic interest in promoting regional stability in Central Asia: “When you look at South Asia as a whole, and you look at the possession of nuclear weapons by two states in the region, there’s no question in my mind that we have long-term security interests in South Asia. There’s also no question in my mind that if Afghanistan were to become ungoverned space, it has a high probability of being the location of a proxy war between two states that have nuclear weapons.”
- Ms. Lindborg testified: “Ultimately a peaceful Afghanistan that doesn’t present a threat to the region or to the United States will ultimately require an inclusive, accountable government able to sustain a social compact with its citizens.”
- General Dunford added: “We highlighted the issue of women’s rights and values in a future Afghanistan consistent with the Constitution for two reasons. And it wasn’t just because it was the right thing to do, we actually assessed that stability and security cannot be achieved unless we have a future Afghanistan consistent with the values in the Constitution and unless women’s rights are respected.”
All three witnesses testified that the United States should utilize diplomatic, civilian, and military lines of effort to help create meaningful political dialogue between the Afghan Government and the Taliban with the goal of eventual withdrawal of U.S. military forces.
- Former Senator Ayotte testified: “After two decades of war, there is not a military solution in Afghanistan for either side, but the best hope to protect American interests and to help preserve the gains made by the Afghan people is to align U.S. policy to support the opportunity for a negotiated peace settlement.”
- Ms. Lindborg added that achieving this goal requires a “heavy emphasis on partnership with our allies and regional diplomacy.” She stated: “By focusing seriously on the peace process, we have for the first time this opportunity to align messages, policies and actions because too often in the past we have pursued military victory at the same time as the peace process.”
- General Dunford testified that the Taliban “want relief from sanctions … they want international legitimacy,” and “they recognize that regardless of the future character of the Afghan government, continued international support is going to be required.” He added: “We assess that the Taliban recognize that they cannot achieve their political objectives merely through violence,” which creates a diplomatic opportunity for the United States and other stakeholders to engage and negotiate with the Taliban.