San Diego, CA - Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (D-CA-53) sharply questioned former United States officials during Tuesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing evaluating the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Congresswoman Jacobs specifically challenged the argument that the United States should have remained in Afghanistan and concluded her remarks by noting, “after 20 years, we ended up with a stronger Taliban, a worse deal than we could have gotten before and [we] enabled terrorist recruitment, which is why we were supposedly there in the first place. And the entire time, we kept pouring money into this effort.”
For video of Congresswoman Jacobs’ questions and comments click here.
The hearing featured the Honorable Richard L. Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State; the Honorable Herbert Raymond McMaster, former National Security Advisor; the Honorable Ryan C. Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan; and the Honorable Douglas E. Lute, former Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. For more information and full hearing video, click here.
Congresswoman Jacobs: Thank you, Mr. Chair. And thank you to the witnesses. I think this conversation is incredibly important.
I wanted to start with you, Ambassador Crocker, since you’re one of the folks who have said, and just answered in the last question, that we should have left troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.
I wanted to first ask you some quick questions and if you could please answer “yes” or “no,” so we could get to more, since time is short. The first is, do you believe that the terrorist threat emanating from Yemen is greater than it was in Afghanistan at any point over the last twenty years?
Ambassador Crocker: I have no way of measuring that Congresswoman. I think it’s significant in both countries.
Congresswoman Jacobs: Ok, how about Syria or Somalia?
Ambassador Crocker: Again, likewise, I have no basis of knowing what’s in those countries. What I would say is, it’s theoretical in those countries. In Afghanistan, we were hit on 9/11 by Al-Qaeda, which is not returning, covered by the Taliban.
Congresswoman Jacobs: My analysis is that the threats emanating from these places are much more real than anything we’ve seen out of Afghanistan for at least the last 15 years, recognizing that obviously 20 years ago, there was a horrific attack. And I sincerely hope no one is suggesting a military intervention and nation-building exercise in any of those countries.
The reason I'm asking you, Ambassador Crocker, is that I am trying to understand why you believe that an indefinite continuation of this war is in the United States’ national interest.
September 11th happened when I was in middle school. My generation has been told literally our entire adult lives that we’re winning, that we’re making gains, that all the military needs is more resources and more time, and that all this loss is worth it because it made us safer. Despite multiple reports that concluded the opposite. I know that there were talks of strategic patience, and whether or not we're better off, I would say less civilians being killed right now is better off. Less of our military families, that I'm very proud to represent, being sent into harm’s way, means that we are better off.
But I want to ask now about some key decisions that I think were determinative in this outcome.
So first, in 2001, the Bush Administration rejected prospects for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, and Donald Rumsfield said an arrangement where Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar could live “in dignity” would not be acceptable. Further attempts by the Taliban to join the political system were again rejected by the Bush Administration in 2002.
Secretary Armitage, since you were involved, seeing where we are today, do you believe that this was the right decision?
Secretary Armitage: I don't know about hindsight, Congresswoman, but I have to say that we did give the Taliban an opportunity. I personally had [inaudible] go see Mullah Omar at the President's behest. He did, and Mullah Omar turned us down flat.
Second of all, we did not during the aforementioned bond process, we didn’t even consider the Taliban, because from our point of view, they were through, it was over. So that’s the reason we didn't try even to have a negotiated settlement. And from about 2005 on, it was quite clear that the Taliban themselves had come to the conclusion that we didn’t have... that our lungs weren’t big enough, that our legs weren’t long enough for the journey, and we were going to be on.
Congresswoman Jacobs: Okay, well, you know, I was having my Bat Mitzvah in 2002. But from my estimation, after 20 years of fighting, we ended up with a stronger Taliban and a worse deal than what we could have gotten in 2002. And I know we've already gone over many other moments like this.
Just lastly, you know, early on in our engagement in Afghanistan, it became clear that security interests took higher priority than other concerns, such as corruption, which I know many people have talked about today. But in addition to corruption, we relied on local armed factions that may have been efficient militarily, but in addition to being corrupt, committed human rights abuses and traded narcotics.
We know that in addition to this festering corruption, overlooking human rights abuses and failing to prevent civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes, directly enabled the Taliban’s recruitment efforts.
So again, after 20 years, we ended up with a stronger Taliban, a worse deal than we could have gotten before, and enabled terrorist recruitment, which is why we were supposedly there in the first place. And the entire time we kept pouring money into this effort.
I truly believe the Biden Administration was right to leave and I think we were all wrong to continue this effort as long as we did.
And with that, Mr. Chairman, I'll yield back.