Rep. Ro Khanna on Afghanistan: “Trump’s Instincts to Withdraw Are Correct, but the Tactical Implementation Matters”

Along with a War Powers Resolution aimed at ending U.S. funding for the Yemen civil war, House progressives plan to float a bill withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next year.

FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2018 file photo, U.S. Marines stand guard during the change of command ceremony at Task Force Southwest military field in Shorab military camp of Helmand province, Afghanistan. The Pentagon is developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops serving in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, marking a sharp change in the Trump administration's policy aimed at forcing the Taliban to the peace table after more than 17 years of war. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini, File)
U.S. Marines stand guard during the change of command ceremony at Task Force Southwest military field in Shorab military camp of Helmand province, Afghanistan, in Jan. 15, 2018. Photo: Massoud Hossaini/AP

The House of Representatives plans to vote in January on a new War Powers Resolution introduced by California Rep. Ro Khanna that would effectively end U.S. military intervention on behalf of Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni civil war.

But the president’s back-to-back announcements Wednesday and Thursday that American troops would be leaving Syria and Afghanistan has broadened the focus of de-escalation efforts — motivating progressive Democrats in the House to work on legislation that would ensure that withdrawal doesn’t worsen conditions in the region. 

Analysts say that leaving Syria could further destabilize the region and embolden the Islamic State as the group’s fighters start to slowly slip back into liberated areas. But it’s unclear what troops are still doing in Afghanistan, a country the U.S. invaded in the name of dismantling Al Qaeda and rooting out the Taliban. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Donald Trump ordered the Pentagon to begin developing plans to withdraw half of the remaining 14,000 troops in the country.

Even before Trump’s surprise withdrawal announcements, Khanna planned to introduce a bill to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, America’s longest war. “I believe we need to pull our troops out of Afghanistan,” Khanna told The Intercept in an interview on Wednesday. “Taliban controls 70 percent. When the surge happened, Taliban controlled 40 percent. We aren’t making any progress there.”

Khanna said in an interview that he and colleagues in the Progressive Caucus would prioritize a final drawdown of troops from Afghanistan in the next session, but told The Intercept that he wasn’t sure yet what form that effort might take on the floor. “I don’t know the mechanism yet. Whether that would be a War Powers Resolution, whether that would be an alternative mechanism. But it will be a focus of mine, and I will advocate that it should be a focus of the Progressive Caucus to get us out of Afghanistan.”

“I want to work with people like Barbara Lee and the broader Progressive Caucus to make sure we had consensus on what the right approach is, because I know there are other members who also believe we need to pull out,” Khanna said. “But I definitely think that Democrats should be very, very clear and unambiguous that we need to pull out our troops in Afghanistan.”

“And we should take action,” he clarified, “whether that’s through the appropriations process, whether that’s through a War Powers Resolution, or whether it’s through some other authorization of force, revoking that and making clear that there is no authorization in Afghanistan. We should explore all the avenues and make sure we have a plan for concerted action.”

In a statement following Thursday’s announcement, Khanna said that the plan needs to be responsibly implemented over a short timeline and should move Afghanistan toward nonmilitary peace-building solutions acceptable to, and driven by, the Afghan people.

Success depends on “the engagement of regional actors such as Pakistan, Iran, Russia, China, and India,” Khanna said, and “a sense of the intelligence platforms and networks that can replace [troops] to guard against terrorist threats.”

Khanna said the current strategy of engaging in direct talks with the Taliban “is a good one,” and that the $43 billion spent on Afghanistan each year despite Taliban control of over 50 percent of the country “shows our military-first strategy and the surge is not working.”

“In sum, Trump’s instincts to withdraw are correct,” Khanna said, “but the tactical implementation matters.”

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