WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding Afghanistan:
‘On Saturday, President Trump announced a new agreement with the Taliban that is designed to promote a peaceful end to the civil war in Afghanistan.
‘First and foremost, we must recognize the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops have deployed to Afghanistan since our national security compelled us in 2001 to confront the terrorist threats emanating from the failed state Afghanistan had become.
‘More than 2,400 American servicemembers have given their lives in Afghanistan. More than 20,000 have been wounded. Our coalition partners such as the United Kingdom and Canada sustained casualties as well. And obviously the worst burden of all has fallen on the Afghan people. Tens of thousands of Afghan security forces and civilians have been killed by this long war.
‘It is largely due to these brave, heroic, and sustained efforts to keep pressure on the terrorists that Afghanistan has not come roaring back as an international headquarters for terrorists. Thanks to these efforts, the United States and its Afghan partners are hopefully in a position to bring about a negotiated end to the conflict.
‘After nearly 20 years, two basic principles are clear. Number one: We should welcome any serious opportunity to bring greater stability to this land. But number two: We must make certain that the progress won through great sacrifice by Afghans and Americans is not undermined by any precipitous rush for the exits.
‘I do not trust the Taliban. So I am grateful the lynchpin of the agreement is a conditions-based approach that will provide our commanders with leverage to test the will and capacity of the Taliban to abide by this agreement.
‘If all goes well at first, our American presence would stabilize at 8,600 troops for the time being. Having heard from our commanders, I agree that presence will remain an important tool as we combat the ongoing threats posed by the likes of al-Qaeda and ISIS and support for the Afghans’ ability to fight terrorism themselves.
‘Since further drawdowns would require even further progress and cooperation from the Taliban, I look forward to hearing from Administration officials, intelligence analysts, and military officers about how they will judge compliance and determine whether the conditions are met.
‘For my part, I believe the intra-Afghan negotiations are especially critical to the future of this country, and to our own significant security interests there. We should do what we can to help the Afghans achieve a peaceful solution to their conflict.
‘I am glad to hear there are no secret annexes to this agreement which Congress will be denied, as there were with President Obama’s Iran deal. The secret documents detailing implementation arrangements are available for the review of all Senators in Senate Security, and I would encourage my colleagues to review the full details.
‘Republicans spent much of the Obama administration reminding our colleagues that hope is not a strategy. We argued President Obama’s reckless withdrawal from Iraq could set the stage for chaos and a resurgence of terrorism. Unfortunately, the rise of ISIS proved us right.
‘That’s why, more than a year ago, I authored an amendment so the Senate could affirm that withdrawing from Syria or Afghanistan the wrong way could strengthen the hand of terrorists and competitors such as Russia and Iran while weakening our own vital interests.
‘I believe from my conversations with senior Administration officials that they went into these negotiations with their eyes wide open about the Taliban’s duplicitous nature. I expect members of both parties will have many questions about this agreement and look forward to briefings from the Administration about the path forward to protect American interests in Afghanistan and ensure this war ends on terms favorable to those interests.
‘Our fight against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other radical Islamic terrorists is not over. As my colleagues and I have said for years, even if the United States were to choose to walk away from this conflict, the conflict would not walk away from us. We learned that on September 11th. We re-learned it with the rise of ISIS. I hope we never need to learn it again.
‘So this war is not over. But this agreement may foster the negotiations and discussions within Afghanistan that would be necessary to bring it toward a close.
‘On Friday, President Trump announced he intends to nominate Representative John Ratcliffe of Texas to serve as Director of National Intelligence.
‘I’m glad the President has elected to nominate a permanent DNI so the Senate can provide our advice and consent on this crucial position. As I mentioned last week, the men and women of the Intelligence Community fulfill a wide array of sensitive and critically-important missions. The office of the DNI is central to coordinating these efforts in a strong fashion that gives no quarter to politicization or partisan bias. I’m glad the Administration will seek Senate confirmation for this position.
‘President Trump has a strong track record of sending the Senate impressive nominees for national security posts who are well prepared to protect our nation and defend our interests.
‘The impressive leadership of Secretary Esper at the Department of Defense, Director Haspel at the CIA, General Nakasone at the National Security Agency, and other leaders have proven that President Trump has an eye for talent and confirmed that the Senate’s trust in each of them was well-placed.
‘I hope Congressman Ratcliffe will impress Senators, just as did the other members of the President’s team, and earn a bipartisan confirmation vote. I trust Chairman Burr and our colleagues on the Intelligence Committee will oversee a prompt and fair confirmation process and I look forward to meeting the nominee myself.
‘The Trump Administration has worked overtime to unwind the failures of the eight years that preceded it. We have taken big strides to renew America’s national security and our strength on the world stage. We must keep up this crucial work.’
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