2/11/2020 — 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I would like to take a moment to extend my condolences, on behalf of the Committee, to the U.S. and Afghan service members involved in the attack over the weekend, and to their families.  Our thoughts are with you, as well as all of those currently serving in harm’s way.

Thank you to our witnesses for appearing today to discuss the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.  You each bring a wealth of experience and unique perspectives on our efforts in the region.  Collectively, you have been involved at nearly every level and every phase of our engagement in Afghanistan – from individual deployments, to senior-level civilian roles, to advising and engaging with leaders at the highest levels of our national security apparatus.  I hope you will draw on your years of experience, as well as your positions as independent experts, to share your views on the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.  We would appreciate your views on where you believe we are currently getting it right and should continue U.S. investments, as well as where we may have gone astray, and need a course correction.

General Keane, you have been critical of the recent efforts to sit down with the Taliban, and have said you are “not optimistic for a peace settlement” between the Taliban and the Afghan government.  I am interested to hear your thoughts on what should be done differently, given the recognition that this conflict will only come to a conclusion via a diplomatic settlement.

Dr. Jackson, in 2017 you described U.S. efforts in Afghanistan as a “tragedy” and said that “U.S. plans have seldom corresponded to problems on the ground.”  I am interested to hear your assessment of the extent to which we have addressed this issue and whether there is more that should be done to ensure our strategy is aligned with our efforts on the ground.

General Field, you have the most recent in-theater experience.  I am interested to hear your views on how the military mission in Afghanistan has been adapted to support our diplomatic efforts with the Taliban, how we are measuring progress in that mission, and whether we are effectively balancing an interest in reducing troop levels with the desire to maintain leverage in negotiations.

I would also like to hear the panel’s views on the importance of integrating all the tools of our national power in Afghanistan.  As former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen reinforced this week, “this is a moment when more investment in diplomacy and development is needed, not less.”  Therefore, I was disappointed to see, as just one example, that the Administration intends to cut all financial support to the American University of Afghanistan, one of the only independent, co-educational universities in Afghanistan.  For years, the university has been a vital part of developing the next generation of Afghan leaders who will be essential to Afghanistan’s long-term security and stability.   

While this hearing is meant to be mainly prospective, I would be remiss if I did not mention the recent publication of a series of documents by the Washington Post, including interviews with over 400 government officials looking back across the conflict in Afghanistan.  The documents, and the Washington Post stories that accompanied their release, argue that U.S. efforts in Afghanistan routinely suffered from poor planning, a mismatch between the stated strategy and the resources allocated, and bureaucratic infighting that jeopardized a whole-of-government effort.

While some have taken issue with the Post’s reporting, particularly the contention that there was a purposeful attempt, spanning multiple Administrations, to deceive Congress and the American people, the documents highlight the need to persistently debate, study, and question our efforts in Afghanistan.  We owe our troops and frontline civilians a strategy that is worthy of their sacrifice, and one that will finally bring a sustainable end to this conflict. 

It is in this spirit that the Chairman and I sought to resume the past practice of holding an Afghanistan-specific open posture hearing.  I have been disappointed that efforts with the Department of Defense to schedule this hearing have yet to prove successful.  I believe it is an important part of the full transparency and candor that are due to the American people.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.