US Envoy to Afghanistan: 'We Have Given Blood and Treasure...to Develop a Society Far From Our Own'

By Susan Jones | April 28, 2021 | 6:42am EDT
Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) talks with Zalmay Khalilzad, the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation after a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on April 27, 2021. (Photo by SUSAN WALSH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) talks with Zalmay Khalilzad, the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation after a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on April 27, 2021. (Photo by SUSAN WALSH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said the U.S. investment in Afghanistan over the past 20 years "has been enormous and honorable."

Around 2,400 U.S. troops have died there since President George W. Bush ordered U.S. military strikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban bases in Afghanistan in October 2001. "These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime," Bush said at the time.

But on Tuesday, Khalilzad indicated there was more to the fight than terrorist disruption:

We have given blood and treasure to the efforts to stabilize and develop a society far from our own. Not just because terrorists planned 9/11 there, but because we as a nation also care about the plight of Afghan women and girls, the fledgling civil society that has grown powerful and independent, and about peace for millions of families there in cities and villages we now know well.

Afghanistan has been transformed. We want our investments and sacrifices to have been worthwhile, and if we navigate the coming months appropriately, I believe this can happen. In the end, however, it will be up to the afghans to seize their opportunities.

Our troops deserve to come home, and Afghanistan deserves a chance to find its own way forward, with help and encouragement from its friends, led by the United States.

Khalilzad said the Taliban has a choice: It can "embrace negotiated peace" and transition from a violent insurgency to a political movement "that enjoys respect in the global community." Or the Taliban can reject a negotiated settlement "and instead pursue a military takeover."

If that happens, he said, "they will face isolation, regional opposition, sanctions and international opprobrium."

Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) asked Khalilzad why he thinks the Taliban has been fighting for the past 20 years.

Khalilzad said, "They have argued that they are fighting to get the international forces, foreign forces, out of their country, and they regard those forces as occupation."

Menendez asked, "Would you agree their vision has been to establish an emirate that would return Afghanistan to the brand of governance seen before 9/11?"

"That has been their stated vision," Khalilzad responded, "but they have also said they have changed since the dark days when they ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s."

Menendez asked Khalilzad why the Taliban would give up their stated vision once U.S. troops are gone? "Do you really think, for example, the incentives of international legitimacy, lifting of sanctions, international assistance will be all it takes for them to peacefully participate in the Democratic process?"

"I think those factors they say are important, but more important is that they cannot have peace in the foreseeable future, and they will have a long war confronting them, because their fellow Afghans that support the republic do not support the restoration of an emirate...in Afghanistan."

"I know there is rising violence, and we are far from withdrawal," Menendez said. "I am trying to understand why they are suddenly going to change the dynamics of what their stated goal is," he added.

Free rein for Taliban

Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) asked Khalilzad why he thinks the Taliban has been fighting for the past 20 years.

Khalilzad said, "They have argued that they are fighting to get the international forces, foreign forces, out of their country, and they regard those forces as occupation."

Menendez asked, "Would you agree their vision has been to establish an emirate that would return Afghanistan to the brand of governance seen before 9/11?"

"That has been their stated vision," Khalilzad responded, "but they have also said they have changed since the dark days when they ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s."

Menendez asked Khalilzad why the Taliban would give up their stated vision once U.S. troops are gone? "Do you really think, for example, the incentives of international legitimacy, lifting of sanctions, international assistance will be all it takes for them to peacefully participate in the Democratic process?"

"I think those factors they say are important, but more important is that they cannot have peace in the foreseeable future, and they will have a long war confronting them, because their fellow Afghans that support the republic do not support the restoration of an emirate...in Afghanistan," Khalilzad said.

"I know there is rising violence, and we are far from withdrawal," Menendez said. "I am trying to understand why they are suddenly going to change the dynamics of what their stated goal is," he added.

As directed by President Joe Biden, U.S. troops will begin leaving Afghanistan on May 1. The withdrawal will be completed by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks on the United States.

"The president determined that it was not in our national interest to maintain U.S. troops in Afghanistan," Khalilzad said. "In the coming months, we will withdraw our troops responsibly, deliberately and safely...We have made it clear to the Taliban that if they attack us as we draw down, we will defend ourselves forcefully."

Khalilzad said the U.S will continue to monitor and address terror threats coming from Afghanistan after U.S. troops depart:

"We will maintain substantial assets in the region and will continue to work closely with Afghan security forces and regional partners. We will hold the Taliban accountable to their commitments to prevent al Qaeda or any other terrorist group from using Afghanistan as a base for attacks against us.”

Khalilzad said U.S. security assistance will support the 300,000 Afghan military and police personnel trained by the United States. He said the U.S. also intends to maintain its embassy in Afghanistan, to provide "development assistance" and to "preserve the gains for minorities and for women."

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