U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, co-sponsored a bill introduced last week called the “Ensuring a Secure Afghanistan Act” to ensure at least 10,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan over the next year.
The bill was introduced by Reps. Jim Banks, R-Ind., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., with Stefanik and Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., as lead co-sponsors.
The Taliban is currently in talks with the American government to move towards a peace agreement, although the Afghan government has not been included in the talks yet. The legislation seems to be explicitly directed at these talks, with the text stating, “The current talks with the Taliban led by (United States) Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad have excluded the legitimate Afghan government, despite the apparent completion of two ‘draft’ agreements between the United States and the Taliban.”
Rep. Stefanik seemed wary of the talks in a news release quote explaining her support of the bill.
“While our military has fought valiantly and made great gains against terrorist networks such as ISIS and al Qaeda, our work to combat terrorism is not over,” she was quoted as saying. “Unfortunately, the consequences of President Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq were far too significant for us to risk making the same mistake in Afghanistan. Current conditions suggest that a withdrawal at this time would not only be misguided but also counterproductive in our fight against terrorism and our overall national defense strategy.”
The proposed legislation would prevent funds provided to the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2019 from being used to reduce the number of troops serving in Afghanistan below the 10,000 active duty threshold unless the director of national intelligence certifies several criteria are met by the Taliban. These criteria include an explicit rejection of al Qaeda by the Taliban and a recognition of the Afghan Constitution, women’s rights and assistance in future counterterrorism operations, among others.
It is not immediately clear how the bill would affect deployments of the 10th Mountain Division, which has lost more than 300 soldiers overseas since 2001.
Asked about the bill’s timing, whether it was for 2019 only, and if or when a withdrawal might be justified, Stefanik’s office directed the Times to her statement. It’s not clear whether the bill would limit American diplomats negotiating with the Taliban, nor is it clear whether the bill has any Democratic support.
Stefanik’s office also directed the Times to clips of Stefanik during a House Armed Services Committee briefing last month.
“Like many of my colleagues I am deeply concerned about ongoing talks with the Taliban and last month I attended the Munich security conference with some other members here and we had an opportunity to meet with (Afghan) President Ghani, who made it very clear that he does not respect the validity of these talks,” Stefanik said during the briefing expressing her concern the talks would be invalid without including the Afghan government.
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the Afghan government has appointed a council to appoint negotiators, a move toward including the Afghan government in the negotiations.