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 EsperTop admiral: 'No condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Oldest living US World War II veteran turns 111 MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHouse panel halts contempt proceedings against Pompeo after documents turned over Outgoing ambassador to China slams Beijing over coronavirus: 'Could have been contained in Wuhan' Hillicon Valley: FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden | Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers 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 Bosher MaloneyTop Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence House panel advances bill to ban Postal Service leaders from holding political positions Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' MORE (D-N.Y.), subcommittee Chairman Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchOvernight Defense: Dems divided on length of stopgap spending measure | Afghan envoy agrees to testify before House panel | Trump leans into foreign policy in campaign's final stretch Afghan envoy agrees to testify before House panel after subpoena threat Overnight Defense: Trump's battle with Pentagon poses risks in November | Lawmakers launch Fort Hood probe | Military members can't opt out of tax deferral 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 John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy 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.

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.”