Chairman Visclosky Statement at Hearing on U.S. Central Command
Congressman Pete Visclosky (IN-01), Chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on U.S. Central Command:
Today, we will receive testimony from our witness, CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth McKenzie. General, we welcome you to your first hearing before the Subcommittee and look forward to your testimony.
Less than two weeks ago, the United States signed a peace agreement with the Taliban. The U.S. has agreed to withdraw all U.S. and coalition forces within 14 months, in exchange for the Taliban cutting ties with al-Qaeda. While the Afghan government was not party to this agreement, talks between the government and the Taliban are supposed to begin this week. According to the Administration, these intra-Afghan negotiations will lead to a cease-fire and the prospect for peace after two decades of war. Administration officials also argue that protections for Afghan women are likely to continue because the Afghanistan of today is different that it was two decades ago and the Taliban want support from the international community.
I believe that our nation’s military operations in Afghanistan should wind down. Unfortunately, I remain deeply skeptical that this agreement will enable the United States to depart Afghanistan in a responsible manner.
The agreement does not contain a cease-fire. The agreement does not contain verifiable metrics to ensure the Taliban is holding up their end of the bargain. The agreement does not include a serious timeline or end-date for intra-Afghan talks. The agreement makes no mention of democracy. The agreement does not include any protections for human rights or women’s rights. Moreover, it is hard to understand how we can continue our counterterrorism mission or train and equip the Afghan Forces if we pull out all of our forces within fourteen months.
It seems the Administration has recognized some of these shortcomings, and their response has been to state that our withdraw is “conditions-based.” Unfortunately, this is not reassuring since there appears to be no common understanding of what those conditions are or what is or is not acceptable under the agreement. Meanwhile, since the agreement was signed, the Taliban has resumed attacks against the Afghan Security Forces and the United States has responded with air strikes.
It is in this environment of uncertainty that the Committee must review the Administration’s budget request for Afghanistan, which is dated. General, we need your best assessment of the situation as it is today. With respect to plans for U.S. troop withdrawal, the Committee needs to understand which bases are closing, which of our units are coming out, and when. We need to know the costs attributable to the drawdown and where the money would come from. This is made more problematic since the Administration has used of nearly all of its transfer authority to build the border wall.
With respect to the billions of funding requested to support the Afghan Security Forces, we need to understand what is absolutely necessary and what can wait. After nearly two decades, I do not believe now is the time to make major investments or to start new programs. Instead we should be focused on making sure what we have already provided is being used and maintained properly. General, I hope we can get your best advice on how the Committee should approach these funding issues.
Turning to Iran, last year’s drone strike on General Sulemani and Iran’s counterattack against our troops in Iraq demonstrated just how high the stakes have become with respect to the Administration’s maximum pressure campaign. Thus far, the Administration’s strategy has not persuaded Iran to come to the negotiating table. General, with 90,000 U.S. servicemembers in the CENTCOM theater, we need to understand what preparations you are making to keep our servicemembers protected and ready to fight.
In Syria, continued fighting has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands, many having fled just in the last few months. An agreement reached last week between Turkey and Russia may offer some relief to the fighting and suffering in Idlib province. It has been suggested that after the Syrian regime takes Idlib, they will turn east toward areas controlled by the Kurds and supported by the U.S. troops. General, we would like an update on Syria and how you plan to spend the billion dollars requested to continue the fight against ISIS.
Finally, we would like an update on the conflict in Yemen and the efforts to bring this terrible war to an end.
General, we look forward to hearing your thoughts on these and other important issues.