Bipartisan bill requires Congressional oversight of Afghanistan peace process

Bipartisan bill requires Congressional oversight of Afghanistan peace process
© Greg Nash

Two Senate Foreign Relations Committee lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill that would establish congressional oversight on any peace deal process to end the now 18-year war in Afghanistan.

The committee’s top ranking Democrat Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDem senators say Iran threat to embassies not mentioned in intelligence briefing Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Democrats 'utterly unpersuaded' by evidence behind Soleimani strike MORE (N.J.) and his colleague Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenate GOP's campaign arm hauls in million in 2019 Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' Overnight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert .2B from Pentagon to border wall MORE (R-Ind.), introduced the “Ensuring a Durable Afghanistan Peace Act,” which would require congressional oversight “for U.S. diplomatic efforts to achieve a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and any agreement that emerges from that process,” according to a statement from the two.

“Unfortunately, like other war powers discussions, Congress has taken a backseat in the debate over the future of our mission in Afghanistan while the conflict has descended towards a stalemate,” Young said in the statement.

“As we pursue negotiations with the Taliban and work to end our involvement, Congress must be a part of the process to ensure that our mission is brought to a responsible end.”

The legislation comes after President TrumpDonald John TrumpLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Saudi Arabia paid 0 million for cost of US troops in area Parnas claims ex-Trump attorney visited him in jail, asked him to sacrifice himself for president MORE in September declared peace talks with the Taliban “dead.”

Until that point, the administration had been negotiating with the Taliban for nearly a year in an effort to end America’s longest war. A draft agreement at the time would have pulled nearly 5,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan within months in exchange for Taliban assurances that it would not allow terrorist groups to use the country as a jumping off point for attacks on the United States.

But earlier this week the Taliban freed an American and Australian in exchange for three of its members. Administration officials hope this could jump start peace talks.

An issue that still needs to be resolved, however, was the Afghan government’s limited involvement in U.S. negotiations with the Taliban. Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani reportedly felt sidelined by the talks, and national security officials and lawmakers fear it will be a hard sell to get the Afghan government to hold up a deal they were largely not a part of in making.

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The White House on Thursday said that Trump had spoken with Ghani to affirm “the important role of the Afghan government in its country’s peace process.”

“Both sides agreed a reduction in violence is necessary to move the peace process forward and for any intra-Afghan negotiations regarding a political settlement to be successful,” the statement said.

Lawmakers worry, though, that Trump may still pull U.S. troops from Afghanistan without gaining concessions from the Taliban in an effort to make good on his campaign promises to end forever wars, especially ahead of the 2020 election.

Menendez and Young’s bill, if enacted, would stipulate that “any action to curtail or remove U.S. military forces from Afghanistan include regular consultation with Congress,” and require that the administration allow lawmakers to review a final agreement with the Taliban, including “a description of counterterrorism assurances, U.S. troop withdrawal, the status of direct Afghan negotiations and progress towards reaching a comprehensive ceasefire.”

In addition, it requires an initial assessment report to be sent to Congress within 60 days after a finalized peace deal that lays out how the State Department can verify that the Taliban are complying with their side of the agreement and whether the group has broken ties with al-Qaeda. A similar, quarterly report would also be required.

Roughly 13,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan. The conflict has taken the lives of more than 2,300 Americans and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.