House lawmakers pledge to find ways to prevent Taliban grip on Afghanistan after US troops leave
WASHINGTON — A group of Democratic House lawmakers said Thursday that they will attempt to limit the Taliban’s ability to regain power in Afghanistan by continuing to have a robust diplomatic presence there and provide economic support on the heels of President Joe Biden’s announcement to remove all remaining U.S. troops from the country.
“We’re withdrawing combat troops, but we’re not ending our relationship with Afghanistan. We’ll continue to have a robust diplomatic and humanitarian presence there, and we’ll continue to invest in Afghanistan stability, infrastructure and national defense,” Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey said during a call with reporters about Biden’s planned withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
Sherrill, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who served in the Navy for nearly a decade, said the United States will continue to ensure al-Qaida is unable to rebuild its training bases and terrorist networks in Afghanistan.
“We’ve been there 20 years, and there are certain gains that I think will be entrenched in certain regions of Afghanistan. And so, to the best of our ability, we'll be supporting the gains we've made, and ensuring that they continue,” said Sherrill, a co-chairperson of the House Democratic Caucus task force on national security.
Other leaders of the group on the call included Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado and Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey, both co-chairpersons of the task force.
The comments came as some top Republicans, including Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, voiced concern that the Taliban could quickly regain a foothold in key locations in Afghanistan after the U.S. military leaves.
The country could return to “a breeding ground for international terrorists,” Inhofe said Wednesday after Biden’s speech about withdrawing the troops.
Aguilar acknowledged the U.S. is taking a risk that the Taliban could gain ground and take over more territories.
“We'll be keeping a close eye on what's happening, because most folks will recognize that the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces are not yet capable of standing on their own,” the congressman said.
Aguilar, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee subpanel on defense, said the U.S. must now assess the assistance package to the Afghanistan government and security forces, and examine what logistical support the U.S. can still provide without a combat troops there. The U.S. must also look at how to conduct the counter-terrorism mission and assist the local government in the long term, he said.
“Those are two things that I do not have the answers to right now, and I think are under development within the administration and [that] we’re going to have to look at in the months ahead,” Aguilar said.
Crow, who served two combat tours as an Army Ranger and a member of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan, outlined priorities that he wants to work with the administration on in the next couple of months. The first is protecting U.S. troops who remain in the country.
“Those who are remaining are more and more vulnerable. I will be using my position as a member of the Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee to ask those tough questions to make sure that we are doing right by our men and women in uniform,” he said.
Another priority is honoring NATO troops who fought alongside U.S. soldiers for the last 20 years in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Crow said, by drawing down U.S. troops in coordination with allies.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced Wednesday in Brussels that the alliance’s 10,000 troops will begin to leave the war-torn country starting by May 1. Stoltenberg, standing alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said the drawdown will be finished within a few months.
Crow also said Congress would work to ramp up the Special Immigrant Visa Program for Afghanistan military translators and their families that allow them safe passage to the U.S. and a streamlined path to U.S. citizenship.
“As we draw down, we have to make sure that we are drastically ramping up the Special Immigrant Visa Program and other processes to get folks out of the country for their own safety and the safety of their families for the months ahead,” he said.
Crow also said the Biden administration, under a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets annual Pentagon spending and policy priorities, must work with Congress to come up with the best strategy for how to move forward on these issues.