Washington, D.C. — This week, U.S. Representative Stephen F. Lynch, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, held a hearing on the Trump Administration’s strategy in Afghanistan, including the February 29, 2020, U.S.-Taliban peace agreement, ongoing efforts to facilitate intra-Afghan reconciliation, and the ramifications of these diplomatic negotiations for the Afghan people, regional stability, and U.S. national security.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the Department of State, appeared before the Subcommittee, marking his first public testimony in the 116th Congress about U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal and Intra-Afghan Negotiations. The Subcommittee also heard testimony from David F. Helvey, who is performing the duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs at the Department of Defense.
At the hearing, Members expressed concerns that the U.S.-Taliban peace deal could jeopardize the security, political, and economic gains the Afghan people—especially women and girls—have made since 2001.
Ambassador Khalilzad and Mr. Helvey testified that the path to a sustainable reconciliation agreement between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban will be complicated, and high levels of violence remain an obstacle to peace.
- Ambassador Khalilzad testified: “While we have reasons to be hopeful, we are under no illusions about the challenges ahead. The conflict in Afghanistan is especially complex, and negotiators will have to overcome personal interests and political differences while representing diverse constituencies. We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles.” He also acknowledged: “the Afghan people will suffer if there is no peace agreement.”
- Mr. Helvey testified: “Taliban violence, quite frankly, has been unacceptably high for too long.” Ambassador Khalilzad added: “By any measure, current levels of violence are too high.”
- Mr. Helvey testified that terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Khorasan (ISIS-K) and Al Qaeda still aspire to threaten U.S. national security interests and that “a strong and capable ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] focused on combating terrorist threats and defending the Afghan people is going to be our best chance at supporting and defending U.S. interests.”
Despite the Trump Administration’s repeated claims that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is conditions-based, Ambassador Khalilzad and Mr. Helvey testified that the Taliban have not fully complied with their commitments under the February 29, 2020, peace agreement.
- Ambassador Khalilzad testified: “With regard to terrorism and al Qaeda, in this setting, what I can say is the Talibs have taken some steps, based on the commitment they have made, positive steps, but they have some distance still to go. … [W]e are in the middle of the process. The picture is one of progress but it’s not completed.”
- Mr. Helvey also testified that with respect to the Taliban’s counterterrorism commitments under the February 29 agreement: “[S]o far, they are not fully compliant, so we have work to be done there. I think we know that, [and] the Taliban knows it.”
Members of the Subcommittee expressed dismay that the Trump Administration’s agreement with the Taliban did not prioritize the rights of Afghan women and girls:
- Subcommittee Chairman Lynch stated: “After all we’ve been through, the most important accomplishment I would think in 50 years looking back—we’ve taught a quarter of million Afghan women how to read and write. That’s probably going to be the biggest impact in that country in the next 50 years. It’ll be the one accomplishment that we can look at that made a difference. And yet, the rights of women and girls was not included as a priority for us going into the negotiations, and the Taliban knew that.”
- Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney stated: “We know that when women succeed, nations succeed. And nations that respect their women and protect them have less violence, less terrorism, and it is an investment for peace in the world to advance the rights of women. … As our chief negotiator, you have said that the talks have to be Afghan-led and that’s true, but we have leverage as the United States to stand-up for the protection of women and girls.”