The U.S. Department of Defense and the State Department must voluntarily provide witnesses to Congress on the war in Afghanistan and the process of withdrawing troops or face subpoenas, House Democrats say.
In a letter sent Monday to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Democrats demanded the two Republican officials send witnesses to testify at a Sept. 9 hearing before the subcommittee of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
“We are writing for the final time to request that your departments make witnesses available to testify voluntarily before the Subcommittee on National Security on September 9, 2020, about the United States’ strategy in Afghanistan,” reads the letter, which was signed by 15 Democrat members of the Committee. “Should your departments refuse to appear voluntarily, the (National Security) Subcommittee will have no other choice but to receive testimony through compulsory process.”
The State and Defense departments did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The letter continued by criticizing the Trump administration of obstructing the committee’s oversight process by not providing an adequate or complete response to the committee’s requests for witnesses, beginning in August 2019, then in December 2019, February, 2020, and most recently in July.
Lawmakers who signed the letter also raised concerns about the Trump administration’s agreement with the Taliban. The Feb. 29 accord would reduce U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan in exchange for concessions by the terror group.
At a March press briefing by Department of Defense Secretary Esper and Joint Chiefs Of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley on the Afghan accord, Esper said the withdrawal of troops would be conditional and can change based on the situation.
“Our commitment under the agreement was to enable us to facilitate that exchange of persons between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan,” Esper told reporters. “And as I’ve said over and over, it’s all conditions-based. But we are going to show good faith and begin withdrawing our troops, and we can stop that at any moment. We can pause it based on, again, changing circumstances.”
The Democrats want the administrations to justify the reduction in troop numbers and accused the president of reducing troops to score political points before the November election.
“While we all want our troops to return home, we are also concerned that U.S. force levels in Afghanistan are being determined by the November 2020 election rather than the future stability of Afghanistan and our national security interests,” the Democrats wrote.
Lawmakers questioned the move in light of what they said was an increase in violence toward Afghan national defense and security forces. They also noted that the Defense Department “estimates that ‘the Taliban has sustained levels of violence five times higher than those observed during’ a reduction-in-violence period in February 2020.”
In addition, the letter called for answers on the role Russia and Iran are playing in the region, and which lawmakers say are “seeking to expand their influence in Afghanistan,” citing recent media reports.
“The American people have the right to hear directly from their government about the prospects for peace in Afghanistan after nearly two decades of conflict, or whether it once again may become a haven for terrorists that could threaten us here at home,” the lawmakers’ letter said.
The Democrats concluded their letter to Esper and Pompeo by cautioning the pair that if they did not comply with the request to appear or send designees before the committee Sept. 9, the committee would start the compulsory process of subpoenaing them.