Interview with Mr. Khalilzad

10 months ago / comments
Interview with Mr. Khalilzad

SENATOR PAUL:  Part of the reason we’re having this debate is we’ve now been at war for 18 years in Afghanistan.  I think even you have admitted there is no military solution to Afghanistan.  It’s a mess.  It’s nation building at its worst.  The President, like myself, complains endlessly about the $50 billion we’re wasting there every year.  I also worry about the lives that we’re wasting there.  You’re sending young men when there is no mission there.  Can you give us any kind of summary or hope or update on the negotiations that are currently happening with the Taliban?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I can give you a brief summary.  And your point about the lives – we had three Americans killed just this week in Afghanistan killed by the Taliban.  At least they claimed it.  President Trump has made clear he wants to end what he calls this endless war, and our team is working diligently to create the conditions to do that.  Ambassador Khalilzad, I think he’s in Doha today or maybe in Kabul working with the Afghan Government, with other Afghans, non-Taliban as well as with the Taliban, to create conditions so that we can deliver on what the President has said he wants done there, which is to reduce – you talked about American outlays, dollars, American taxpayer money, but also to reduce the risk for Americans.  He’s also told us to do that in a way that continues to reduce risk of an attack from that real estate, and we believe there is as path forward that we can achieve each of those two goals the President has laid out for us.

SENATOR PAUL:  Thank you.  I think we have the greatest military in the world.  Nobody can measure us anywhere.  We can do anything.  But I’ll tell you what a Navy Seal told me.  He’d been in 19 years a couple years ago.  He says:  We can go anywhere.  We can kill anyone.  We can complete any mission you ask us, but the mistake is when you ask us to stay and plant the flag.  We’re not so good at nation building.  Our soldiers don’t want to do it.  It’s a huge expense of money and lives.  Let’s learn how to declare victory.  And I commend the President for trying to declare victory, and I hope you’ll support him in that.

SENATOR SHAHEEN:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Mr. Secretary, this morning I had in my office a special immigrant visa recipient from Afghanistan.  He had been a translator.  He had – he was tortured.  He was missing a number of fingers on both hands, almost killed by the Taliban.  And he raised a question with me that I couldn’t answer.  He said, “Why do we believe we can negotiate with the Taliban today, since we have not been able to do that in past years?  And why is the government not at the table for these negotiations?”

During the time that the negotiations have been ongoing, seven Americans have been killed by the Taliban.  So can you – can you answer his question for me and tell me how we are responding to the Taliban’s violence against Americans that has happened during the negotiations?  Are they paying any price?  Have we asked them for any accountability for what’s happened?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes, ma’am, I think I can answer his question.  So we are – his statement that we’re not talking to the Afghans is not true.  We have extensive daily conversations with --

SENATOR SHAHEEN:  I’m sorry, I mischaracterized that.  I should have said that the Afghans aren’t at the table for those negotiations.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  They are.  To the extent there are negotiations taking place, they are as part of the table as anybody else.  We’re talking with the Government of National Unity.  We’re speaking with the Taliban.  We are working to get the two of them in the room together.  We think we’re closer than we have been at any time in the last decade in achieving that.  This will ultimately be a resolution that the Afghan people will have to achieve.

With respect to why we’re talking to the Taliban is they control a significant amount of resources; and to get the reconciliation we need, to take down the violence level, the Taliban is going to have a say in that.


SENATOR SHAHEEN:  I’m sorry to interrupt.  Again, I didn’t mean to indicate why are we talking to the Talibans.  Why do we believe the Taliban will be honest with us any more today than they have been over the last 17 years?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Oh, yes, ma’am.  That’s a fair question.  Trust but verify.  It will be about actions on the ground.  We understand there is not only a deep level of distrust with the Taliban, there is a deep level of distrust with many of the actors in the Afghan area.  It’s a nation that has a sad history with respect to truth-telling and corruption. 

So the Americans – we have our eyes wide open.  This will need to be an agreement, if we can receive one, that gets reconciliation, that takes down the violence levels, but it’ll be the actions ultimately.  The negotiations will get a framework, but it’ll be the actions we see on the ground that will ultimately come to deliver the confidence that we can begin to do what President Trump has directed us to do, is to take down the enormous resource commitment and risk to American soldiers that we face every day.

SENATOR SHAHEEN:  And what are we doing to ensure that Afghan women are at the table during these negotiations?  As you know, we passed the Women Peace and Security Act – the President signed it into law – that says women should be at the table in conflict-ending negotiations.  So --

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So there has – I think Ambassador Khalilzad said this pretty well the other day when he was asked a similar question.  We have made some real progress with respect to how women are treated in parts of Afghanistan today. 

SENATOR SHAHEEN:  Without a doubt.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  It’s been uneven, to be sure.  We want to do everything we can to make sure that as Afghanistan moves forward, we don’t retrograde, we don’t go backwards on that.

SENATOR SHAHEEN:  Mr. Secretary --

SECRETARY POMPEO:  And so they should be part of the discussion.  I think Ambassador Khalilzad said that pretty clearly.

SENATOR SHAHEEN:  Well, I had a chance to ask the ambassador that myself several weeks ago, and I was not reassured by his response that we have made a firm commitment to ensure that they are part of any negotiations.  So I hope you will commit to that today, that that is part of what our effort is in Afghanistan as we’re looking at ending this war. 

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, remember, the Afghans will ultimately decide, right?  I mean, we --

SENATOR SHAHEEN:  No, I appreciate that.  But we also have – as we are doing in the negotiations, we are putting pressure on the Afghan Government.  What I am asking is that we put pressure on the Afghan Government and the Taliban to ensure that women are part of the negotiations. 

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Senator, there are lots of issues that we’re working our way through, and it --

SENATOR SHAHEEN:  I understand that.  But this is half of the population of the country. 

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes, ma’am.  And I hope they will make their voices heard.  I hope they will turn to their leadership, that they will demand of the folks in their – if they’re in Kandahar or they’re in --


SENATOR SHAHEEN:  Right.  They are trying to do that.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  -- or they’re in Kunduz, if they’re – I hope the women of Afghanistan will demand that of their leaders and not – we’ll do – America, we have always done our part there.  America can never be criticized for not doing enough for the Afghan people.  I take great umbrage to suggest we’re doing anything different.

SENATOR SHAHEEN:  I was not criticizing based on that.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  And so I am urging the Afghan people to take a role. 

SENATOR SHAHEEN:  And I have done that, too.  And their response to me has been, “We hope that you will also put that kind of pressure on the government.”


SENATOR SHAHEEN:  And that’s what I’m asking.  It doesn’t sound to me like you’re willing to commit to that, though.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Ma’am, we’re working on every front to make sure that we continue to move forward on every element, and we want every woman’s voice to be heard.  I hope they’ll all do that