Senior defense leaders this week faced more than 12 hours of questions in public hearings on the chaotic exit from Afghanistan, but lawmakers see that as just the start of their oversight work on the issue.
Leaders in the House and Senate are promising additional classified briefings and public inquiries into not just the last few months of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, but the last 20 years of military involvement there.
In addition, Senate Armed Services Committee member Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., on Thursday introduced legislation to create an independent commission to review a variety of military decisions in Afghanistan, to “ensure the United States never repeats the mistakes it made in Afghanistan during the 20 years of war.”
The panel would be styled after the commission formed to examine intelligence failures in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, and would be staffed by outside experts who were not involved in political or military decisions related to the conflict.
“It’s important to keep it non-political and to make sure that it truly is expansive, that they look at decisions made by the four different [presidential] administrations and 11 different Congresses,” Duckworth said. “It’s not just a look at DOD, but also the State Department, and where did Congress fail?”
The commission idea gained preliminary backing from fellow armed services committee members during the panel’s hearing on Tuesday. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also offered some support, saying an interagency review of the entirety of the war effort would be useful.
Republicans have also called for more investigation into the Afghanistan exit, but with more focus on the final weeks of the conflict.
On Wednesday, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., introduced legislation to create a new State Department task force to both review the evacuation of roughly 130,000 individuals in the final weeks of the U.S. presence there and the ongoing work to help more American citizens and Afghan allies get out.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., promised “multiple classified hearings” on the topic in coming weeks, to include the Defense Department’s ability to conduct anti-terrorism operations in and around Afghanistan without a ground presence there.
Senate Armed Services Committee held another public hearing on the Afghanistan withdrawal Thursday morning, with views from outside experts about the short-term and long-range security implications there. Officials vowed more will come.
“There is a temptation to close the book on Afghanistan and move on to long-term strategic competition with China and Russia,” Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., said at the hearing. “However, while the threat from violent extremists has changed, we must ensure we remain postured to carry out counterterrorism operations in an effective manner.
“In order to move forward, we must capture the lessons of the last two decades.”
Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley are scheduled in coming days to deliver written responses to unanswered questions from the marathon Afghanistan hearings earlier this week. Those submissions may provide the basis for future appearances on Capitol Hill by the pair in months to come.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.