The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the Hill last Friday at which a panel of three foreign policy experts, and most members of the Committee, expressed their concerns about the ongoing peace process and the impending Trump-backed troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The three experts called it a “mistake,” “dangerous” and changing “the balance of power in favor of the Taliban and other terrorist groups.”
On the panel, former ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, who also served as ambassador to Iraq and Pakistan, testified alongside Dr. Stephen Biddle, Professor at Columbia University and Dr. Seth Jones, Director of Transnational Threats Project at Center for Strategic & International Studies. All three unanimously told the Committee that without U.S. military support, the Afghan forces will not win the war against the Taliban and other terrorist groups in the country.
Ambassador Crocker stated that the troop reduction sends the Taliban a signal that “you win – we lose. Let’s dress this up the best way we can.” Ambassador Crocker called the ongoing negotiations “surrender talks,” agreeing to the Taliban’s long-time demand to speak with them and not include the Afghan government. He argued that with a continued U.S. engagement and strategic patience “with an educated population and girls and women playing the role they deserve is the best way to ensure our long-term security.”
Dr. Biddle called President Trump’s announcement of a 50% troop reduction a “mistake” and said, “our interests are best served by no further withdrawal.” He believes that “we should not give away more concessions without being requited” by the Taliban. He referred to the Taliban slowing down the peace talks in hope that the U.S. will make further concessions. He asked, “Why should the Taliban make any concessions when the U.S. keeps giving away what they want for free, step by step, gradually over time?”
Dr. Jones argued that “absent a peace deal and the further withdrawal of U.S. forces will likely continue to shift the balance of power in favor of the Taliban and other militant groups including Al-Qaeda and their supporters which include Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and other countries and outside actors.” Dr. Jones recommended that the U.S. continue to build “political consensus, support peace talks, and to at least prevent the overthrow of the Afghan government by the Taliban.”
The experts also stated that the Taliban group continues to threaten human and civil rights in Afghanistan. Ambassador Crocker warned, “they have not become kinder and gentler”, while Dr. Jones made clear references to the “deeply troubling” treatment of women today in areas under their control. In his latest research paper, published the same day of the hearing in the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, he writes that the “Taliban’s persecution of women is particularly concerning. Women who are victims of domestic violence have little recourse to justice in Taliban courts, and the Taliban discourages women from working [employment outside the house], denies women access to modern healthcare, prohibits women from participating in politics [or entering politics], and supports such punishments against women as stoning and public lashing.” He also highlighted the fact that the Taliban’s negotiating team includes no women.
Dr. Jones told the lawmakers that, “Congress has a very important role to keep this as a front burner issue. There has been a major progress on women’s issues in the past 20 years and a Taliban takeover will eliminate that virtually immediately.”
The hearing took place just a few days after President Trump announced that he will reduce the current number of troops to 2,500 from 4,500 by mid-January. The announcement drew criticism domestically and globally, including from Trump’s own party and allies, calling it a “mistake” and “dangerous.”
Sources: House Armed Services Committee 11/20/2020; West Point 11/20/2020; Academy of Diplomacy 11/20/22; CSIS 11/20/2020; Columbia University 11/20/2020; Feminist Newswire 11/18/2020