Defense

House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops

The House Armed Services Committee voted Wednesday to put roadblocks on President Trump's ability to withdraw from Afghanistan, including requiring an assessment on whether any country has offered incentives for the Taliban to attack U.S. and coalition troops.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) amendment, from Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), would require several certifications before the U.S. military can further draw down in Afghanistan.

The amendment was approved 45-11.

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, argued the amendment "lays out, in a very responsible level of specificity, what is going to be required if we are going to in fact make decisions about troop levels based on conditions on the ground and based on what's required for our own security, not based on political timelines."

"And that is crucially important, and I think it is our number one priority," she added.

The amendment comes as Trump's withdrawal deal with the Taliban remains precarious as high violence levels persist in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military has said it is down to 8,600 troops, in line with the agreement to get to that level by mid-July. But military officials have insisted any further drawdown will be based on conditions on the ground that are not yet met, even as Trump pushes for a speedy withdrawal.

The amendment also comes amid a firestorm in Washington over intelligence showing a Russian military unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked militias to kill U.S. and coalition service members in Afghanistan.

Among the amendment's requirements is an assessment of whether any "state actors have provided any incentives to the Taliban, their affiliates, or other foreign terrorist organizations for attacks against United States, coalition, or Afghan security forces or civilians in Afghanistan in the last two years, including the details of any attacks believed to have been connected with such incentives."

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) framed the measure as particularly important in light of the revelations.

"There's been bipartisan criticism of what a weak deal [Trump] got with the Taliban, a deal that is already falling apart," Moulton said. "Now we learned that he was making this deal at the same time as there were bounties on the heads of American troops, American sons and daughters. We clearly need more oversight over what the president is doing in Afghanistan."

Crow's amendment would block funding to dip below 8,000 troops and then again to below 4,000 troops unless the administration certifies that doing so would not compromise the U.S. counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan, not increase risk for U.S. personnel there, be done in consultation with allies, and is in the best interest of the United States.

It would also require an analysis on the effects of a drawdown on the threat from the Taliban, the status of human and civil rights, an inclusive Afghan peace process, the capacity of Afghan forces and the effect of malign actors on Afghan sovereignty.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a staunch Trump ally, argued the amendment would unfairly tie the administration's hands.

"A great nation does not force the next generation to fight their wars, and that's what we've done in Afghanistan," Gaetz said. "I think the best day to have not had the war in Afghanistan was when we started it, and the next best day is tomorrow."

"I don't think there's ever a bad day to end the war in Afghanistan," he added. "Our generation is weary of this and tired of this."

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