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October 01, 2021

New King, Duckworth Bill Would Create Independent Afghanistan War Commission to Learn Lessons From Military Campaign, Withdrawal

Builds on questions asked by Senator King during Senate Armed Services Oversight Hearings

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is joining Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and a group of his colleagues to introduce the Afghanistan War Study Commission Act. The legislation would establish a nonpartisan, independent commission to examine every aspect of the war in Afghanistan, including the political and strategic decisions that transformed a focused military mission into vast, nation-building campaign that became the longest war in our nation’s history. The goal of this commission will be to inform future decision makers and strategists to ensure our nation learns and memorializes the right lessons from Afghanistan, so that future generations may learn and avoid making similar mistakes. The legislation comes days after Senator King pressed both top military officials and foreign policy experts on the circumstances surrounding America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“After 20 years, thousands of servicemembers killed and wounded, and more than a trillion taxpayer dollars, America’s military and diplomatic presence on the ground in Afghanistan has ended – but many questions about our conduct of the war there remain,” said Senator King. “The current situation in Afghanistan is the product of four presidential administrations and Congresses controlled by both Republicans and Democrats. The responsibility for our strategic failure is truly shared over those two decades – and we must pursue accountability and answers. Oversight hearings are a part of this process, but we must do more to get answers for the American people – especially the brave women and men who served in Afghanistan and their loved ones who sacrificed so much. As Churchill said, ‘those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’ – so let’s study what went wrong, on a nonpartisan basis, and learn our lessons for the future.”

Specifically, the Afghanistan War Study Commission Act would establish an independent commission to:

·       Examine all U.S. combat operations, irregular warfare operations, intelligence actions, diplomatic activities and the interagency decision-making and coordinating processes used in the War in Afghanistan. The commission would span the entirety of the War—from the September 11, 2001, attacks until the conclusion of the military evacuation on August 30, 2021;

·       Study the use of authorities for conducting the Afghanistan War, the effectiveness of Congressional oversight efforts and the strategic decisions made throughout the course of the war;

·       Investigate actions by all U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Defense, Department of State and the Intelligence Community. It would also examine the U.S. efforts with our allies and partners;

·       Ensure its members are nonpartisan and chosen in equal numbers by the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction for Armed Services, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs, with one additional member from the Administration. The Commissioners would be experienced policy professionals from all corners of the federal government with no direct history of involvement in operational or strategic decision-making in the Afghanistan War to ensure objectivity;

·       Provide lessons learned and actionable recommendations in a public and unclassified report, with a classified annex for Intelligence Community matters. The report would allow the United States to learn from our experience in Afghanistan and ensure those mistakes are never repeated.

Senator King, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, has been vocal about the need for additional answers on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Earlier this week, Senator King pressed U.S. military leaders for their assessments preceding the Afghanistan withdrawal initiated in negotiations between the Trump administration and the Taliban, and the advice they provided President Biden regarding the best ways to keep American troops and citizens safe during August evacuations. In response to Senator King’s questioning, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, responded that maintaining a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan past the initial August 31st deadline would have required a significant increase in troops and predicted any ensuing effort to clear Kabul of Taliban forces and maintain the status quo would have resulted in “significant amounts” of U.S. military casualties. Later in the week, Senator King questioned expert witnesses on the Doha agreement’s role in causing the “beginning of the collapse of the Afghan government,” and argued that a lack of understanding of other cultures is one of the “fundamental errors” of American foreign policy. In response to Senator King’s questioning, Dr. Vali Nasr – Professor of Middle East Studies and International Affairs at Johns Hopkins and former Senior Advisor to the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan – concurred that the Doha agreement triggered the collapse of the Afghan government and “sent a powerful sign to the region.”

Earlier this month, Senator King published an op-ed in TIME urging against a rush to assign blame until all of the facts are clear, and committing to engaging in congressional oversight through hearings and examinations like those proposed through this commission. In the piece, Senator King wrote that “the problem, of course, is that layered complexity or waiting for more information doesn’t make for the most compelling television or analysis, but this doesn’t make it any less important that we search for it—for ourselves and for the men and women who served, who deserve clear answers to difficult questions.” In the lead up to the Afghanistan withdrawal, Senator King cosponsored the bipartisan Afghan Allies Protection Act, to help protect the Afghan civilians who risked their lives to support the U.S. mission, and highlighted the need to protect our Afghan partners, while raising awareness and pressure for needed action from the Biden Administration. Additionally, he pressed a top Defense Department nominee in Senate testimony for his commitment to prioritize efforts to bring America’s Afghan partners to safety, and joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues to urge President Joe Biden to streamline the SIV program for Afghan nationals who worked for or on behalf of the United States.

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