Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today issued the following statement for a full committee hearing on U.S. lessons learned in Afghanistan:
“Our nation has been at war in Afghanistan for more than 18 years.
“Eighteen years. Let that sink in.
“More than 2,000 American lives lost and thousands more wounded. More than 60,000 Afghan deaths. And more than $900 billion dollars spent on a war that has dragged on for almost two decades – and this doesn’t include what we’ll spend to take care of our veterans in years to come. And where are we after all that time? A military stalemate.
“How did we get here?
“In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan with a clear objective: defeat al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts and prevent a repeat of 9/11. By December of that year, American and coalition partners defeated the Taliban government. Many of its senior leaders were dead. Others fled into hiding.
“The following year, in 2002, 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 here we are today, 18 years later, having made precisely that mistake.
“So, what happened? There’s a lot to unpack when we look at what went wrong. But some things are clear.
“We got distracted by the war in Iraq under an Administration whose priority was defeating Sadaam Hussein, not an end game in Afghanistan. We entered into a questionable alliance with Pakistan, which continued to arm and support the Taliban, providing the group safe-haven and allowing it to strengthen its hand in Afghanistan. We changed missions, changed priorities, and lost sight of what was once considered the just war.
“So our role in Afghanistan constantly evolved, as we plodded along—year after year, into what now feels like a never-ending war.
“In 2008, Congress established the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction—what we call SIGAR—to conduct oversight of the American war effort in Afghanistan. And in 2014, we called on SIGAR to do something that hadn't been done: conduct deep-dive, original research into the war to look at its successes, its failures, and lessons learned.
“Today we focus on those lessons learned.
“This past December, the Washington Post published a review of hundreds of interviews and documents SIGAR collected for the Lessons Learned program, after obtaining them through the Freedom of Information Act. These documents and thePost’s excellent reporting help fill in some significant gaps in our understanding of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
“They show a years-long campaign of misrepresentation by our military officials. Year after year, we heard, ‘we’re making progress.’ Year after year, we were ‘turning a corner.’ Three successive administrations—of both parties—promised that we would avoid falling into the trap of ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan. And while presidents and military officials were painting a rosy picture, the reality on the ground was a consistently deepening quagmire with no end in sight.
“It’s a damning record. It underscores the lack of honest public conversation between the American people and their leaders about what we are doing in Afghanistan and why we are doing it.
“Yet, even in the light of this new information, the Trump Administration isn’t righting the ship on our Afghanistan policy. SIGAR’s lessons learned reports have confirmed the longstanding view that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Trump Administration in 2017 announced it would send more troops to Afghanistan and waited 18 months before naming a special envoy to focus on Afghanistan reconciliation. That’s a heck of a long time when our troops are in the field coming under fire.
“Just this past September, this committee held a hearing after President Trump derailed peace talks with the Taliban—over Twitter, as we’ve come to expect from him.
“The announcement came after over a year of the administration blocking key information from Congress and the American people about the status of the war. Secretary Pompeo has—still to this day—refused to let the top State Department negotiator in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, testify in an open hearing about the status of peace talks, despite a subpoena from this committee.
“There’s so much more for us to understand about how we wound up here and how we move forward in Afghanistan. So, Inspector General Sopko, I’m pleased you’re here today to discuss your findings and share your perspective.”
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