November 17, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on Afghanistan 2001-2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on 20 years of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and lessons learned. Witnesses included Ms. Laurel E. Miller, director of the Asia program for the International Crisis Group, and the Honorable Ryan Crocker, nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  

“As Congress wrestles with the fallout from the administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal, we’re faced with two responsibilities. 

“One is to look back and reflect on 20 years of conflict and gather lessons learned. These lessons should inform the future use of American power, and, more importantly, define its limits. 

“The collapse of the Afghan army after nearly 20 years of enormous expenditures, enormous expenditures as the chairman has called out, calls into question the efficacy of DoD’s efforts to build partner capacity. Is it beneficial to build a foreign military in our own image when it makes them over-reliant on U.S. technology and maintenance? What is the durability of these institutions in countries that lack a formal military tradition, lack a central government, and place a priority on tribe or valley over nation?  

“The collapse of portions of the Iraqi Army in 2014 during the Islamic State onslaught highlighted similar issues. DoD was the lead for training and equipping in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and was unable to foster security sector reforms to make these institutions more durable. The State Department must and should take a larger role.

“Our inability to effectively address Afghanistan’s corruption hampered our diplomatic, development, and military efforts. We cannot accept corruption as the cost of doing business – anti-corruption must be central to strategies in the future.

“If we look back in history, I think we have learned a lesson from this. Shortly after World War II, we were very successful in nation rebuilding in both Germany and Japan. After the Korean conflict went on halt, we were very successful in South Korea doing the same thing. We have been unsuccessful since then and it is important to note that the failures in those efforts were in countries where corruption was endemic to the culture. That focus on corruption has to be a very important focus in the future as I think it will dictate what the possible success of the country will look like after a conflict.   

“Additionally, the failure to administer our Special Immigrant Visa program and assist American citizens on the ground is astounding. We must bolster efforts to assist those who served our country and improve any future versions of this program.

“Finally, our approach in Afghanistan suffered from a lack of strategic coherence. What started successfully with a light American footprint and the quick removal of the Taliban evolved into more than 100,000 troops and a focus on counterinsurgency and nation building. We must better define our strategic objectives, assign resources accordingly, and resist the temptations to do more than is necessary. 

“The second and most urgent task in front of this body is to look forward and mitigate the negative impacts of U.S. withdrawal. 

“This includes developing our counterterrorism plan, human rights roadmap, and regional approaches. These deserve the Senate’s full attention— nothing less.

“After all, the news from Afghanistan is jarring. According to open source reports, the Islamic State will be in a position to launch attacks outside of Afghanistan in a mere six months. Al Qaeda could be in a position to conduct external attacks in just two years.

“On the human rights front, women and girls in Afghanistan are worse off today than they have been for a decade. We must identify the right avenues to re-empower Afghanistan’s women, minority, and youth. Our USAID implementers must have unfettered access to at risk populations without Taliban interference or diversion.  

“On foreign assistance, we should debate the limits of practical engagement. As Afghanistan careens towards a humanitarian catastrophe this winter, we must strike the appropriate balance between helping ordinary Afghans and preventing benefit to the Taliban.

“Many of my colleagues want to turn away from Afghanistan and focus on other issues. However, it is critically important that we don’t waver in our commitment to oversight.

“I find it disappointing that the Secretary of Defense has refused to testify before this committee. I hope this can be addressed soon, as well as having additional briefings and hearings from Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, and Director Haines that will address the very real threats to Americans. It has been almost three months since my initial request. I look forward to working with the chairman to finalize these important discussions.

“Finally, I’ve introduced an Afghanistan oversight bill that has the support of nearly thirty of our colleagues. This legislation authorizes the task force responsible for the continued evacuation of Americans and our Afghan partners. It would also sanction the Taliban for human rights abuses, terrorism, and drug trafficking. Additionally, this legislation directs strategies to address the very real terror threat in Afghanistan. While we have held one initial meeting with the majority on staff on this matter, I would like to see it move more quickly.

“With that, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.

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