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February 11, 2020

ICYMI: Chairman Inhofe Questions Witnesses at SASC Hearing on U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned witnesses this morning at a SASC hearing to receive testimony from outside experts on the United States strategy in Afghanistan.

Witnesses include: Dr. Colin F. Jackson, Professor, Strategy and Policy Department, United States Naval College, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia; Gen. Jack Keane, Chairman of the Board, Institute for the Study of War, and former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army; and Brigadier General (ret.) Kimberly C. Field, Executive Director, Albritton Center for Grand Strategy, and former Senior Advisor to the Commander, Operation Resolute Support.

Inhofe: Very good, General Field. In the beginning of your comments, you talked about how promises were made to the women and young people. Elaborate a little on that.

Gen. Field: We’ve had a partner in the Afghan government over the years. As we move from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency in search of enduring solutions in Afghanistan, because of the connection between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, you know, we move to a democratization of sorts in Afghanistan. And that includes individual rights. You know, women are half of the population. So we ended up there. We put a lot of money into women’s programs. We continue to do that. We still have in fact an appropriation to train and educate women in the security forces. So we have made a lot of promises to the women and to young people in general.

Inhofe: The word I got from that was that we hadn’t really kept our promises to women and young people. I kind of thought we were in pretty good shape on that, because I’ve seen the progress we’ve made primarily by women.

Gen. Field: We have kept our promises.

Inhofe: I appreciate that.

Dr. Jackson, you and I talked about—I’m going to bring up a subject that’s been behind us quite a ways, but it’s my understanding that one of our colleagues is going to have a hearing on the “Afghan Papers,” and so I thought we might kind of get some comments in there in the beginning. You and I have talked about this in the past. We know that we’re talking about primarily everything that was pre-2016, and so I’d like to have you elaborate a little bit on the “Afghanistan Papers” that seems to be coming out for another discussion.

Dr. Jackson: Senator, I would echo your comment. The “Afghanistan Papers” does cover exclusively a period preceding the current Administration, that is sort of pre-2016. I think there are several other elements that distort the picture unhelpfully in this rendition. I was reminded of George Will’s famous comment, saying of another subject, he said, “presenting the obvious with a sense of original discovery.” That would be my epitaph for the “Afghanistan Papers” project. Much of what is said in there is true. Afghanistan has been a violent place. It has been a place we’ve struggled to understand. It is one that is beset with corruption, with drug economy, all of these things. True, true, true, and known. To leap from that, however, to arguing that there’s a plot to deceive the United States people that’s been prosecute over three U.S. administrations by every senior military, civil servant and political leader is, I think, unfair and deliberately distortionary. I think it’s unfortunate that we’re sucking the oxygen out with articles like this, as distinct from very good reporting in the same paper. And I point to yesterday’s article on ISIS-K by the Washington Post, which was a model of good journalism, talking about a current problem, looking at what it might be in the future in terms of ISIS-K’s presence and threat. I just wish we could spend the mindshare we have available on current and real problems rather than disinterring things that aren’t very relevant to current discussion.

Inhofe: I agree with that. That’s an excellent statement.

General Keane, did you forget to introduce your friend today?

Gen. Keane: [muffled] Angela McGowan, my wife who I married on December 8 and who ran for congressional office in the state of Mississippi a couple of years ago and summarily lost, but she did it as a promise to her father. The first job she had in Washington, DC, was for Senator Bob Dole. She’s been working for Rupert Murdoch for 22, 23 years. Thank you.

Inhofe: Great introduction. General Keane, when we talk about the reduction [in troops] from 12,000, probably 12,000 plus, down to 8,600, I think that Secretary Esper has said that these reductions would “not necessarily” be linked to a deal with Taliban. A lot of people are kind of surprised he said that. How do you think that link should go?

Gen. Keane: First of all, as I said in my opening statement, General Milley has been working on the force reduction for some time, based on his assessment that he had more forces than he needed to meet the mission requirement. I believe that given the fact that negotiations were taking place, the Administration made a logical discussion not to unilaterally conduct that reduction and use that as leverage in the negotiations. I think that’s where we are, but if there’s not a settlement in those negotiations between the United States and the Taliban, I do think Secretary Esper’s right – then we’re likely to announce that reduction anyway, because General Milley wants to get on with it. He doesn’t want anyone to be in the country exposed unnecessarily to risk if he doesn’t need them to accomplish the mission.

Inhofe: Good point. Senator Reed.

Click here to watch Sen. Inhofe’s opening statement.

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