Subcommittee Held Hearing on President Biden’s Decision to Withdraw U.S. Military Forces from Afghanistan
Washington, D.C. (May 20, 2021)—Today, Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, held a hearing with Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the Department of State, to examine President Biden’s decision to withdraw all remaining U.S. military forces by September 2021 and the implications of the withdrawal on U.S. national security and future engagement in Afghanistan.
“I certainly share President Biden’s desire to bring a responsible end to America’s longest war,” Chairman Lynch said. “No matter how thoroughly considered, however, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan still comes with significant consequences to our national security, the long-term viability of the Afghan state, and the future stability of the region—especially in the absence of an intra-Afghan peace agreement. As Members of the Oversight Committee, it is our job to ensure that those consequences are recognized and those risks are minimized to the greatest extent possible, while continuing to promote the responsible stewardship of U.S. taxpayer resources.”
Chairman Lynch questioned Ambassador Khalilzad about his assessment that the Taliban would “seek normalcy in terms of relations” and not remain a “pariah” following the withdrawal of U.S. military forces in September 2021.
- Ambassador Khalilzad acknowledged that, “skepticism is justified,” and noted, “We'll have to see what they do.” He further testified that “we have to be prepared for the decisions that they make with regard to those choices that they face. We can’t be driven by wishful thinking that they will make the right choice that we would like, … but at the same time we shouldn’t close the door to that possibility.”
- In response to questioning from Chairman Lynch about whether the Biden Administration has a “Plan B” should the Taliban overtake the Afghan government, Ambassador Khalilzad acknowledged that “the plan is not finished.” He further testified that the Administration is “working very hard to think about alternative futures for Afghanistan and what could happen, and how we would operate, carry out the mission that the President and Congress decides for Afghanistan and how the mission could be carried out and how we can spend the resources of the taxpayers as intended.”
Ambassador Khalilzad acknowledged that the United States’ ability to monitor terrorist threats in Afghanistan will “diminish” following the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
- Ambassador Khalilzad testified: “We are confident that although our monitoring capability will diminish with the full withdrawal of our forces—and that will also affect our strike capability—but given the lower level of terrorist threat, that we would be in a position to monitor and respond adequately when our forces are out of Afghanistan.”
- In response to questioning by Rep. Hank Johnson, Ambassador Khalilzad testified that he has discussed with Afghanistan’s neighbors “the need for enhanced cooperation for monitoring the situation in Afghanistan, with regard to the future of terror” but acknowledged that agreements to enable U.S. “over the horizon” counterterrorism capabilities are “a work in progress.”
Subcommittee Members pressed Ambassador Khalilzad on how the Biden Administration plans to carry out effective oversight of U.S.-funded reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan following the U.S. military withdrawal in September 2021.
- Ambassador Khalilzad acknowledged that conducting oversight will be “a challenge” and testified that once troops are withdrawn, “perhaps it will become more difficult. But we are committed to following the law and making sure that the monies are spent as intended.”
- He also testified that the United States “will do our best in terms of oversight” and intends to “maintain a robust embassy and to protect that embassy security so that we can perform that responsibility, oversight of money spent as intended, going forward.”