Washington, DC - Today, Representative Gregory W. Meeks. Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, provided the following opening and closing remarks during the October 5th, 2021 hearing titled "Afghanistan 2001-2021: Evaluating The Withdrawal And U.S. Policies - Part II
"I want to take a moment to thank our distinguished panelists for joining us for this virtual hearing, our second in a series exploring U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Thanks to all of you for your service to our country.
"For the past almost 20 years since Americans first deployed to Afghanistan, our troops and those of our allies have performed heroically. I also want to recognize the contributions and the sacrifice of all of our diplomats and development professionals who also served in Afghanistan since 2001.
"I am holding this hearing as part of this Committee’s oversight work exploring years of policy decisions related to Afghanistan that led to the events that unfolded this past August. Though the evacuation effort started off precariously, that the administration was able to facilitate the evacuation of over 124,000 people in less than 20 days was an incredible effort and result.
"We must recognize that what we saw unfold in Kabul in August 2021 wasn’t simply about 20 days, but was the culmination of two decades of policy making.
"That includes changing our missions from defeating al-Qaeda to nation-building, and failing to accept the Taliban’s offer of surrender. Decisions like diverting resources to Iraq, failing to effectively deal with Pakistan and safe-havens in that country, or announcing a surge of troops based on a counter insurgency strategy when our goals, and the goals of the Afghan government did not align. Decisions to continue night raids and drone strikes, and making a deal with the Taliban that fundamentally altered the political landscape of the country…the list goes on and on. There are 20 years of decisions and choices dating back to 2001 that led to the events of August 2021.
"In 2002, then President George W. Bush said, “The history of military conflict in Afghanistan has been one of initial success, followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure. We’re not going to repeat that mistake.” And yet that has become the story of America’s 20 year war effort in Afghanistan. And ultimately, we repeated that mistake.
"In 2008, President Obama referred to Afghanistan as the “good war”, and then surged an additional 30,000 troops after conducting a review of Afghanistan policy, entrenching the United States further in the war. We had a new formulation “Af-Pak” that recognized the link between our policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but failed to address those links.
"While President Trump vocalized the frustration many Americans felt about the prolonged conflict, “The Forever War,” the deal President Trump and Secretary Pompeo signed with the Taliban directly contributed to the destabilization that led to this summer’s frantic withdrawal.
"I want to be clear. This Committee’s oversight effort isn’t simply to determine whether we should blame the Bush or Obama, or Trump or Biden administrations. This committee seeks to understand and learn what went right, what went wrong over the course of 20 years, so that we don’t again repeat the mistakes of the past
"How did a mission that was initially focused on dismantling al-Qaeda turn into a 20 year nation building exercise, that ended ultimately, with failure to build an Afghan nation. Why did successive administrations fail to recognize what was hiding in plain sight: that the progress we were told we were making, or that the corners we were told we were turning was really based not on fact, but on hope. On the hope that a trillion dollars in assistance was building a capable military; a resilient health and education system, and irreversible progress on girls and women's rights.
"Those hopes were not realized, and the costs of our mistakes were borne by 2,461 U.S. service members and more than 100,000 Afghans, including the more than 47,000 Afghan civilians killed in the conflict. This doesn’t capture the thousands of Americans, Afghans, and Coalition-partner countries families affected by the war.
"So I want to again thank the witnesses for helping us take this retrospective look at some of the policies that got us here and what we could have done differently so that we don’t again repeat the mistakes of the past."
"In closing, the testimonies heard today offer insight into the 20 years of decisions and policies that have shaped the U.S. legacy in Afghanistan. That legacy is a culmination of mistakes, hubris, and naïve optimism about our ability to fundamentally transform a nation we did not fully understand.
"There is no one simple answer that alone can explain what went wrong in August 2021. The decision to withdraw, which I strongly believe was the right one, was always going to come with the risk of the Afghan regime collapsing, of chaos in Kabul, and a Taliban victory. Though we will continue to conduct oversight of that withdrawal, no oversight is complete unless it also evaluates the years of policy-making that got us there. What allowed us to transform a counterinsurgency strategy into one of nation-building, and to task our military with that impossible mission?
"I want to make a final observation based on some of the testimony submitted for today’s hearing. Ambassador Crocker in your opening statement, you said our end goal for being in Afghanistan was always clear and never shifted: that it was the security of the United States. And you closed your statement with a very heart-felt story of Ghazi stadium, and what our departure meant for the women of Afghanistan.
"It’s a clear demonstration of competing interests and the lack of policy tools to deal with those interests: whether we are talking about counter terrorism or women’s rights, girls education, corruption. Our military came to address the al-Qaeda threat and stayed to prop up the Afghan government and support women’s rights. To me, the latter two tasks should be entrusted to our diplomats and our development professionals, not the military. This choice is demonstrative of the mission creep that occurred, which made it so politically difficult to make the tough decision to finally leave.
"I worry that the lessons gained from looking back at the last 20 years are at risk of being ignored. I worry that those who say Afghanistan could’ve been sustained had we just kept 2,500 troops - who mistake military might for strength and restraint for weakness – miss the true lessons of Afghanistan. Congress alone has the constitutional authority to declare war, and it is time it once again takes seriously the weight of that responsibility and the consequences of our actions here in these halls.
"I thank our distinguished witnesses, Ranking Member McCaul for his partnership in holding today’s hearing, as well all the Members of this Committee for their engagement on this important conversation.
"Thank you – this hearing is now ADJOURNED."