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House Democrats threaten to subpoena Pentagon, State Dept. for Afghanistan testimony

House Democrats threaten to subpoena Pentagon, State Dept. for Afghanistan testimony
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Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are threatening to issue subpoenas if officials from the Pentagon and State Department do not testify at a hearing next month on the administration’s Afghanistan strategy.

In a Monday letter to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperFemale generals' promotions held back over fears of Trump's response: report Overnight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command New Army hair and grooming standards allow for ponytails, buzz cuts and earrings MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoChina labels human rights criticism 'groundless' Trump to attend private RNC donor retreat On China, is Biden channeling Trump or Trump's administration? They're not the same MORE, the lawmakers said they were requesting for the “final time” that witnesses from both departments testify at a Sept. 9 hearing before the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security.

“Should your departments refuse to appear voluntarily, the subcommittee will have no other choice but to receive testimony through compulsory process,” they wrote.

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The letter was signed by committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyDeJoy apologizes for mail delays while defending Postal Service changes House panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading apps Carolyn Maloney unveils gun safety legislation package MORE (D-N.Y.), subcommittee Chairman Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchHouse Oversight requests Secret Service briefing on threats of extremist violence in wake of Capitol riot The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Republicans squeeze Biden with 0 billion COVID-19 relief alternative Democratic lawmaker vaccinated for COVID-19 tests positive MORE (D-Mass.) and 13 other Democrats on the committee.

The State and Defense departments did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Hill.

The panel has been seeking testimony from Pentagon and State Department officials on the Trump administration’s strategy in Afghanistan since August of last year to no avail, according to Monday’s letter.

The latest push for testimony comes as administration officials say the U.S. military is poised to further draw down in Afghanistan despite a lack of progress on implementing the Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban.

The deal, signed in February, called for the U.S. military to draw down to 8,600 troops by mid-July. The Trump administration met that timeline and is now signaling further reductions.

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Esper and President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills MORE said earlier this month that they expect the United States to draw down to about 5,000 troops by Election Day in November.

The withdrawals come even as the Taliban has increased attacks on Afghan forces. Talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul were supposed to follow the U.S.-Taliban agreement, but the negotiations have been repeatedly delayed amid a halting prisoner exchange process.

Reports and officials have also indicated the Taliban has not met the agreement’s requirement to break from al Qaeda, with U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie saying in June that “conditions have not been fully met” for a full U.S. withdrawal by the deal's timeline of next May.

In their letter, the Democrats expressed concern the drawdown is being driven by politics.

“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,” they wrote.

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The committee first requested a briefing on Afghanistan a year ago, but received no response from the administration, the letter said.

It then requested officials testify at hearings in January and March, according to the letter. In January, the committee was told three days beforehand no officials would appear despite the panel having rescheduled to accommodate the Pentagon, the lawmakers said. In March, the committee was told officials were cutting back their appearances on Capitol Hill because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, the committee invited David Helvey, the acting assistant secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, and Zalmay Khalilzad, special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, to appear at the Sept. 9 hearing, the lawmakers wrote. But the letter said the Pentagon “refused to attend,” and Khalilzad “could not participate ‘due to travel.’ ”

“The Trump administration has consistently shirked its constitutional duty to testify and provide information to Congress, and it is disheartening that this obstruction extends to such an important national security issue as the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan,” the lawmakers wrote.

“It is both a moral and constitutional imperative for your departments to testify publicly about how the Trump administration plans to bring a responsible end to nearly two decades of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.”