Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) pressed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis Tuesday for answers on Afghanistan, arguing that, after 16 years, success still appears out of grasp.
At a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Jones said:
After 16 years, over 2,300 Americans killed, over 20,000 wounded and we spent $1 trillion. … This country is headed for bankruptcy. Mr. Trump campaigned, I have 30 of his comments and tweets. He was opposed to being in Afghanistan. He wanted to pull out. He was very critical of those who wanted to stay.
“We are now increasing the number of our troops in Afghanistan, and after 16 years, the American people have a right to know of their successes. … And after 16 years, I do not think we’re having any successes,” he said. “Mr. Secretary, how can we with this budget situation we’ve got and an economic collapse in this country—how can we continue to go on a policy after 16 years?”
Jones also referenced a recent government report that said the U.S. knowingly overlooked years of Afghan forces abusing children.
According to Jones:
When the secretary of defense that follows you and the congressmen that follows me, or congresswoman, if we’re still talking about Afghanistan and the future and nothing is changing, I think there’s got to be a time that you would say to President Trump, “We have done all we can do. Blood and treasure is lost, and we have nothing to show that we’ve gained, except we still have trouble with the leaders of Afghanistan having sex with little boys.”
Mattis responded that the U.S. is ensuring that another “9/11” is not hatched out of Afghanistan. The Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan in 2001, had provided safe haven to al-Qaeda terrorists, allowing them to plan the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Mattis also defended the strategy, noting that the president had challenged “every assumption.”
“It took months to put it together to answer every question he had. And the gravity of protecting the American people caused him to change his mind based on what the intelligence services told him was the vulnerability we would have if we pulled out of there,” he said.
He also said more allies back the new strategy than before and that Afghan forces are now carrying the fight, backed by U.S. and coalition advisers. Previously, U.S. troops carried out much of the fighting. In addition, he said, the Afghan people do not support the Taliban.
“It’s been a long, hard slog and I recognize that,” he said. But, he added, “We believe that the regionalized strategy will draw even more allies, and it puts the enemy on the path toward accepting reconciliation. We’re not out to conquer it.”
At a separate hearing on Capitol Hill, a senior defense official said the U.S. is paying $45 billion dollars a year for the war, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the money includes $5 billion for Afghan forces and $13 billion for U.S. forces. Another $780 million goes for development assistance, the AP said.
The cost is about half the price per year than at the war’s peak around 2010 to 2012, when there were as many as 100,000 U.S. troops, costing more than $100 billion each year.
Watch the full exchange between Jones and Mattis: