With overwhelmingly bipartisan support, Congress overturned President Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2021. It states emphatically that the president alone cannot decide to reduce the number troops in Afghanistan. The Act also includes that the human rights of women and girls and minority populations must be protected in Afghanistan. The House voted 322 – 87 and the Senate voted 81 – 13 in favor of overriding the President’s veto of the bill. The NDAA was enacted into law on new year’s day despite Trump’s veto.
Section 1213 of the Act states that “it is in the national security interests of the United States to deny terrorists safe haven in Afghanistan, protect the United States homeland, uphold the United States partnership with the Government of Afghanistan and cooperation with the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, and protect the hard-fought rights of women, girls, and other vulnerable populations in Afghanistan.”
For Afghan women’s rights groups, the overriding of President Trump’s veto of the bill is a step towards ensuring that the ongoing efforts for peace are not rushed and that the US troops will not leave prematurely. The US and the Taliban signed an agreement in February of 2020 which obligates the Taliban to reduce violence in Afghanistan. The Taliban, however, has increased violence against the Afghan people and the Afghan government. Targeted killings have been at its peak, killing members of civil society, journalists, and women’s rights leaders. In the last two months alone, 11 journalists have been assassinated throughout the country. This bill comes at an important time to assess the level of violence perpetrated by the Taliban and to hold the terrorist group accountable for indiscriminately killing members of a vibrant civil society.
The provisions in the NDAA authorize Congress to withhold funding for further troop reductions until reports from several agencies indicate, among several other issues, how a withdrawal will not “compromise” the US counterterrorism mission as well as not “increase the risk of the expansion of existing” or new terrorist groups. According to the Act, these reports come from offices of the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, the Director of National Intelligence, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Commander of United States Central Command, the Commander of United States Forces, Afghanistan; and the United States Permanent Representative to NATO is submitted to the four different committees of the House and Senate.
The overriding of President Trump’s veto of NDAA 2021 by Congress was received with sigh of relief by many, including Afghan women rights leaders and groups who were concerned that the troop reduction was too early and too severe given the level of violence in Afghanistan perpetrated by the Taliban. In December, Trump announced that he was going to further reduce the troops before leaving office to fulfill his 2016 campaign promise to end the war in Afghanistan. The Act orders that the current number of troops may not be reduced from 8,000 or the number of troops at the time of the enactment of the Act or below 4,000. Currently, there are about 4,500 US security forces serving in Afghanistan.