April 27, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Remarks at Hearing on U.S. Policy on Afghanistan

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave remarks at a hearing on U.S. policy on Afghanistan. The committee heard witness testimony from the Honorable Zalmay Khalilzad, special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation at the U.S. Department of State.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

“First of all, like many others, I have deep concerns about the administration’s rush for the exits in Afghanistan.  

“Most everyone agrees that we need to seek a responsible end to the war there, and that our troops should come home as quickly as possible. However, a U.S. military drawdown should only occur in a way that safeguards our national security interests, preserves our hard fought gains, and protects the homeland.

“I hope I’m wrong, but I’m concerned that the administration’s decision may result in a Taliban offensive that topples the government. Indeed it seems that most of the people who work in this space think that that’s where this is headed. That would eliminate any chance for a negotiated peace, places at risk the rights of Afghan women and minorities, produces staggering numbers of refugees, and results in a safe haven for terrorists who wish to attack America.

“Our departure from Afghanistan will not improve the conditions on the ground. The sobering reality is that the Afghanistan-Pakistan region remains a dangerous place. Despite some argument that the threat has diminished, there is a consensus that unless we continue to apply pressure to these terror networks operating there, we’ll see a threat against the United States in short order.  

“Of the 72 U.S.-designated terrorist groups globally, 15 reside in the Afghanistan–Pakistan region, and many of these groups have stated their intent to attack Americans in the United States.

“We can’t trust the Taliban with America’s security. Worse, the insipient counterterrorism plan potentially depends on Afghanistan’s neighbors, who have a long history of supporting and harboring the Taliban. The only responsible way forward is to retain an effective U.S. counterterrorism capability, insist on a conditions-based reduction in troops, and demand the Taliban’s compliance with a counterterrorism framework. 

“In my discussions with military leaders, they’ve been clear that it is not easy to conduct counterterrorism from afar. We cannot commute to this fight without significantly increasing the risk to our forces. The distances are great, we lose important human intelligence networks, and we lack suitable basing agreements in neighboring countries. My fear is that Afghanistan will become a dangerous blind spot.

“In addition to counterterrorism concerns, an American departure puts Afghan women, minorities, and girls under serious threat of losing their hard-earned rights. Over the last 20 years, we have seen remarkable gains in human rights, reflected by a dramatic increase in the number of girls in school and women in positions of authority. The Taliban’s views on these issues are clear – as we saw during their rule in the 90s and have seen with the assassinations of female journalists and medical workers in recent months.

“For our part, any Congressional approval of further assistance to Afghanistan should and must depend on the shape of the government there and its adherence to counterterrorism commitments and human rights.

“The secretary of State recently announced an additional $300 million dollars in assistance for Afghanistan. While these programs are rightly focused on civil society, anti-corruption, women’s rights, and economic improvement, I have serious concerns about oversight of these dollars. With the departure of U.S. troops and the potential for Afghanistan to descend into violence, providing oversight of our investment will be difficult at best.   

“There is also the matter of safeguarding our embassy and diplomats. State tells us that planning is underway and I look forward to those consultations. I remain very skeptical of our security on the ground.

“To our men and women in uniform, our diplomats, aid workers, and NATO allies and other partners – you have borne an enormous weight since the attacks on September 11. You have nobly served, and all of us owe you and your families an incredible debt of gratitude.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

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