House panel calls for Afghanistan envoy to testify about deal with Taliban, hints at subpoena

House panel calls for Afghanistan envoy to testify about deal with Taliban, hints at subpoena
© Aaron Schwartz

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHouse Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump insists Turkey wants cease-fire | Fighting continues in Syrian town | Pentagon chief headed to Mideast | Mattis responds to criticism from Trump Testimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense MORE (D-N.Y.) on Thursday called on President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE's special envoy to Afghanistan to testify this month on the proposed peace plan with the Taliban.

Engel asked Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation who has served as a top negotiator with the Taliban, to appear before his committee in September. It follows two previous requests earlier this year that Engel said didn't receive responses.

Engel first asked Khalilzad to appear before the committee in February in a joint invitation with Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump insists Turkey wants cease-fire | Fighting continues in Syrian town | Pentagon chief headed to Mideast | Mattis responds to criticism from Trump Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe MORE (Texas), the panel's ranking Republican, as well as in a missive with all committee Democrats in April.

Engel signaled that his patience is running thin and suggested the next step could be a subpoena if Khalilzad doesn't respond.

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"I am calling this hearing so that Congress and the American people will have the long-overdue opportunity to understand the contours of your negotiations with the Taliban and the potential risks and opportunities that may result," Engel wrote in a letter to Khalilzad.

"After nearly two decades of war, we all want to see the fighting in Afghanistan come to an end. But we want to make sure we are negotiating a peace and not simply a withdrawal," Engel added.

Engel's demand for Khalilzad's appearance comes after the special envoy said earlier this week that the U.S. and the Taliban have reached an agreement "in principle," pending Trump's approval in what is the ninth round of talks.

“Yes, we have reached an agreement in principle,” Khalilzad told Afghanistan's TOLOnews. “Of course, it is not final until the US president [Donald Trump] agrees on it. So, at the moment, we are at that stage.”

Khalilzad said that under the draft agreement, the U.S. would withdraw 5,000 troops from five bases in Afghanistan within 135 days if the Taliban meets certain conditions.

"Given the challenges this Committee has faced in getting information from the Trump Administration on this issue, I want to be clear: I do not consider your testimony at this hearing optional. Your appearance before this Committee in an open setting is essential to our ability to carry out our oversight responsibilities. If this letter is insufficient to secure your attendance, I will consider other options that would ensure this hearing takes place in a timely manner," Engel wrote.

Trump said last week that he will reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 8,600, but the U.S. will keep a presence after a deal is reached in the conflict that has been ongoing for the last 18 years.

"Oh yeah, you have to keep a presence," Trump said in a Fox News radio interview. "We're going to keep a presence there. We're reducing that presence very substantially, and we're going to always have a presence. We're going to have high intelligence."