Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services
Committee, last week led Republicans at two open hearings on the situation in
Afghanistan and the path forward for counterterrorism. Inhofe has iterated that
these hearings were just
the beginning, and he hopes to have additional oversight hearings on
Afghanistan in October.
detailed questioning of America’s top defense officials and leading Afghanistan
experts, Inhofe is sharing what he has learned so far.
Takeaways from First Two Open Hearings of Senate Armed Services Committee
- Afghanistan is now
the safest place for radical Islamist terrorists in the world.
- Our ability to
combat terrorist organizations in Afghanistan has been significantly
- As a result of
President Biden’s surrender in Afghanistan, our adversaries question America’s
resolve and see an opportunity to exploit a weak administration.
The Taliban government is filled with terrorists.
- Just look at who
serves in senior-most positions in the new Taliban regime.
Zakir, deputy defense minister, was at Guantanamo for years, and he studied
insurgency warfare there.
of the five ex-Guantanamo detainees, each with ties to al-Qaeda, who were
traded for Bowe Bergdahl in 2014 are now ministers in the Taliban's government,
including the director of intelligence Abdul Haq Wasiq.
Haqqani, Minister of Interior, was a key figure coordinating with al-Qaeda
throughout the insurgency and is wanted by the FBI with a $10 million reward
for information about his location.
- As terrorism
expert Tom Joscelyn, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of
Democracies, reminded the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 30, “The
new Taliban is the same old Taliban.” Joscelyn’s opening statement noted that
the Taliban aired a video on Afghan national TV stating that the United States
deserved the 9/11 attacks and denying responsibility for harboring Osama bin
- Dr. Vali Nasr,
former senior advisor to the U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and
Pakistan, stated at the same hearing, “We are right to be worried about
terrorism in Afghanistan. We are right to be worried about how the Taliban will
The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was not just a win for the Taliban, but
for al-Qaeda as well.
- Osama bin Laden
first pledged al-Qaeda’s allegiance to the Taliban in the 1990s and its current
leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has reaffirmed the group’s allegiance to the Taliban
multiple times since. The decades-long ties between the two organizations
remain strong, with senior officials in the new Taliban government having
trained with or fought alongside al-Qaeda against the United States, the West
and the Afghan government for years, most notably Sirajuddin Haqqani, who
serves as the Taliban’s Interior Minister. Just this week, General Milley told the
Senate Armed Services Committee that “the Taliban has never renounced al-Qaeda
or broke its affiliation with them,” and Joscelyn testified that al-Qaeda
played a prominent military role in the Taliban's victory in Afghanistan.
- General Milley has
described the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of Kabul as
putting “a shot of adrenaline” into the arm of the global jihadist movement.
- Experts reiterated
that point on September 30. “Afghanistan is a special safe haven for al-Qaeda
because the Taliban is their ally…The jihadis have a strategic, ideological
problem, which is they weren’t able to win anywhere. Now they’ve won. Now they
have a victory message,” Joscelyn said at the September 30 hearing.
Over-the-horizon counterterrorism in Afghanistan is more difficult and costly,
and less effective.
- Congress has not
yet seen a counterterrorism plan from the Biden Administration. That is why we
have requested further open hearings from the Department of Defense on this
- Because of its
landlocked nature, Afghanistan poses a unique set of challenges that make it
fundamentally different from other countries where we conduct over-the-horizon
counterterrorism. As General McKenzie stated on September 28, “It is the finding and fixing the target that where we
run into great difficulties, particularly associated with Afghanistan because
of as you noted its landlocked location, its great range from our bases. And
while we do have platforms that can fly in there, it eats up a lot of time and
a lot of platforms to conduct that mission.”
- We have no
reliable partners in the region. At the same hearing, General McKenzie
confirmed that the U.S. is reliant on the continued use of Pakistani airspace
for our over-the-horizon strategy — but Pakistani officials have told us we
won’t be able to use their airspace.
intelligence is going to be more challenging. As Joscelyn pointed out on
September 30, the U.S. had significant gaps in intelligence about al-Qaeda even
when we had boots on the ground — for instance, they were operating large
training camps we didn’t even know about. On September 28, General Milley
confirmed that over-the-horizon counterterrorism “makes
it much more difficult for us to conduct intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance.”
Our allies are questioning our credibility and resolve.
- General Milley
said clearly on September 28 that our credibility has been damaged with allies,
partners and adversaries.
- On September 30,
Nasr confirmed that the Biden Administration’s disastrous drawdown harmed our
standing on the world stage. “The entire endgame in Afghanistan has damaged
American credibility. We are in a position where our ability to see through our
projects are suspect, our ability to stick with our strategies are suspect, and
also our ability to execute our policies are suspect.”
China is watching very closely.
- At the September
30 hearing, Nasr said: “To our…adversaries, it looks generally that the United
States will tire of its strategies, that it ultimately did not win this war,
that ultimately it said it would not talk to the Taliban, it talked to the
Taliban, and when it came to the endgame that it didn’t manage its own exit
well and there was more damage done on the way out than when we were in…I would
say our enemies may look and say they can wait out our strategies ultimately
that we can be pushed out of regions in the world if they have the time and the
- Joscelyn echoed
that point at the same hearing, saying because of the “debacle” drawdown, China
is questioning us on Taiwan. “We will be tested across the board in the coming
months and years. We are at one of our weakest points.”
also asked the question many of us are thinking: “How can we get China right if
we didn't get this easy counterterrorism right?”
The 2018 National Defense Strategy says that our focus should be on strategic
competition with China and Russia. It did not discount the threat from radical
Islamist terrorism, instead describing counter-terrorism as an “economy of
force” mission. “Economy of force” does not mean “no force.” Leaving a small
presence of troops on the ground in Afghanistan to deter terrorist
organizations – like we have in many other parts of the world – would have both
kept the Afghan National Security Forces from falling apart and provided an
economy of force to enables us to focus on these other challenges.
here to see Inhofe’s seven top takeaways from the September 29 hearing with
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, and General Kenneth McKenzie, Commander of U.S. Central