Engel Remarks and Questions on the President's Plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan
- As Delivered –
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks and questioned Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice G. Wells at a joint hearing of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on the President’s Plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan:
Representative Engel: “Thank you, Madam Chair, and I want to thank you, and I want to thank Mr. Yoho, and also Mr. Sherman, Mr. Deutch for letting me participate today, and making a statement.
“I wanted to ask Ambassador Wells a few questions, and Ambassador thank you for your service and for your time this morning. I want to talk about Afghanistan, because we are 16 years into the war there. After all that time, this conflict obviously remains one of our most important foreign-policy priorities, and there’s an enormous amount at stake obviously, for our country, for Afghanistan, for the region.
“In August, President Trump announced his South Asia strategy at Fort Myer, Virginia. He told the world that, ‘we will win,’ and that ‘we will defeat them, and defeat them handily.’ It was a lot of tough talk. But it really left me with more questions than answers, because we don’t know the details. We don’t know how this plan will bring the conflict to an end, and I want to just talk about that.
“I voted for all the AUMFs back in 2001 and 2002 and I’m really, very much chagrined that we are still operating on that. We should have this congress attack foreign policy and do what’s right, rather than relying on a congress when I was here, but I would venture to say 80 to 90 percent of the members still here were not here back then. So, I have some questions.
“Madam Ambassador, Is the Administration’s position that the war in Afghanistan will come to an end by a military victory won on the battlefield?”
Ambassador Wells: “No. Victory is a sustainable political settlement that results in a stable Afghanistan whose territory is not used to threaten the United States and our partners.
“Sir, I had the opportunity to accompany the secretary on his trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. And there, I was able to see the impact of the strategy in each of those countries.
“For Afghanistan, it is a recommitment to that country. The knowledge that we are prepared to stay with them as they have to undertake what are very difficult and necessary reforms. It’s telling the Pakistanis that we are not leaving that it’s not 1989, that you need to count on our presence and instead of hedging, identify how to mediate the legitimate interest that you have in Afghanistan at a negotiating table.
“And in India, it’s recognizing the positive role that India can play in Afghanistan’s economic stabilization. And so, I found across the region the strategy was extraordinarily resonant, and I do believe that after four years of counting us out we have changed the dynamic, and we’ve change the conversation, and we’re going to see progress as a result.”
Rep. Engel: “So, let me—thank you—let me ask you this: Has the Administration provided American troops in Afghanistan additional authorities beyond the train, advise and equip mission, essentially putting them back into more of a combat role?”
Amb. Wells: “The mission is still a train, advise, and equip. I think both Secretary Mattis and the President have made mention to the authorities being provided that will allow for more aggressive targeting. That’s not really my area of expertise so I do defer to my Defense colleges. But the number of our troops, the commitment of our troops, and the ability of our troops to actively and aggressively assist the Afghan forces will make a difference.”
Rep. Engel: “Well, Secretary Tillerson said this is a war that will come to an end through a negotiated settlement, he said we will not win but the Taliban won’t win either, if that’s true why are we then sending more troops to Afghanistan?”
Amb. Wells: “As Secretary Mattis testified, and I believe General Nicholson, the conflict had been stalemate, stalemate generally in favor of the government but a stalemate. And it had not—the Taliban had not yet been convinced that there not going to win on the battle field. And so the provision of the additional forces to enhance the train, advise, and assist, and to push it down to a lower level is going to be quite significant in making a difference on the battlefield along with the additional air assets that are being provided.
“And, so, as I said on the outset of this the key impediment to a peaceful negotiated settlement is the unwillingness to date of the Taliban to engage directly with the government of Afghanistan. We have to change that calculus of the Taliban using both military and political means.”
Rep. Engel: “You mentioned earlier that the Administration believes the war will come to an end through a negotiation. So let me ask you, what is the Administration doing to prepare for this negotiation? And why aren’t we more focused on touting a potential peace process?”
Amb. Wells: “We remain very active in all of the regional architectures that have existed and have been developed to reinforce a message that supports a negotiated political solution. I just recently hosted a quadrilateral meeting with the Chinese, the Afghans, and the Pakistanis. I look forward to participating the Heart of Asia Conference that’s coming up, the Kabul process, there’s an international contact group, there are a variety of diplomatic initiatives that continue to work very closely. But fundamentally we need to get the parties to agree to talk to one another directly, and that involves changing the Taliban’s calculus.
“We also believe that we need to improve the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan to see better cooperation between the two countries and so we’ve been supportive of General Bajwa, Chief of army staff’s recent visit to Kabul, his commitment to undertake specific initiatives with his Afghan counterparts. So at a variety of levels bilaterally, trilaterally, and in larger international groupings, we are pursuing this effort, sir.”
Rep. Engel: “I don’t believe that we should cut and run in Afghanistan, I don’t believe that we shouldn’t care about what happens there. Obviously, it’s very important but I think you can understand that many of us are worried about getting bogged down in a situation where we can’t get out, and use it more and more as justification as the years go on and on, and we’re still going back to an AUMF that’s old and antiquated. And by the way I said this under the previous administration, and under this administration, and I would say it under any administration.
“I do think Congress has to play a much more important role. We are a coequal branch of government and we should be playing more important role if indeed the effect of our policy is going to be to wear us down, and keep us there in a war that we cannot win, that admittedly we cannot win. You know, what changes? What changes five years from now, 10 years from now, 15 years from now?
Amb. Wells: “And I think the steps of the government of Afghanistan is taking and needs to take to enhance its inclusivity, to make itself a more attractive partner, to demonstrate the central government is representative of all the Afghan people is critical. And so, both President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah, when they meet with Secretary Tillerson, discussed the Kabul Compact, the 200 metrics that the Afghans themselves have developed to be able to measure specific reforms across the fields of economics, governance, security, and reconciliation, are an important symbol of the fact that with President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah, we do have partners that we can work with in this effort at reform.”
Rep. Engel: “Thank you very much, and thank you Madam Chair, appreciate it.”
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