A proposal by Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth to create an independent commission to examine U.S. government failures over two decades of war in Afghanistan looks like it will be included in the Senate's version of the annual defense policy bill.
Speaking with CQ Roll Call on Thursday, Duckworth, a retired Army pilot who lost both her legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004 and now serves on the Armed Services Committee, said her amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act appears on track to be included in a manager’s package.
The manager’s package is a group of amendments that comes with the approval of committee leaders and is likely to be adopted without any objection.
Duckworth said she is refiling her amendment to include some language suggested by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee.
Rubio wants to add requirements to the report that the Independent Afghanistan Commission would generate, she said, such as including the intelligence community’s assessment of the effects of the August withdrawal of American forces.
“The stuff that he’s asking for, I don’t always agree with it, but I think it’s reasonable,” Duckworth said. “The issues that he raised I thought were legitimate.”
A broad mandate
Duckworth’s proposal would create a 16-person panel to conduct a comprehensive review of the entirety of the Afghanistan War, with a mandate to look at all aspects of government involvement, including the State and Defense departments, U.S. Agency for International Development and Congress itself.
“Twenty years of failed congressional oversight and failed executive branch oversight led to the results in Afghanistan,” she said. “Congress is also at fault here, and Congress needs to be investigated. And I don’t think Congress should be solely responsible for investigating itself.”
Congress after Congress refused to debate a new authorization for use of military force and give new instructions for what needed to be done, she said.
Duckworth’s proposal would exclude anyone who served in a decision-making capacity relating to Afghanistan from being eligible to serve on the commission. So it would include no generals who served in Afghanistan, no members of Congress who served in Washington during the conflict and no former Defense Department officials who were involved in the war’s prosecution.
Under Duckworth’s amendment, the chair and ranking member of six committees (House and Senate Armed Services, Intelligence and foreign affairs committees) would each appoint one member, and so would the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, for a total of 16 commissioners.
“I didn’t want anybody to say, the Republicans stacked it, or the Democrats stacked it,” Duckworth said. “I wanted this to truly be a real commission that’s not political that gets to the bottom of the lessons learned.”
Duckworth wants a panel that is nonpartisan, not bipartisan. While a member of the House, she served on the Benghazi committee, and she witnessed it devolve into a partisan brawl.
Duckworth said she’s not opposed to Congress creating its own committee to conduct its own retrospective of the war, but suspects such an effort might quickly become highly partisan.
“I don’t want to see that happen here. I want to get real lessons learned because that’s what our troops deserve,” she said.
When the House Armed Services Committee marked up its version of the NDAA, some lawmakers, including Mississippi Republican Trent Kelly, said members of the committee would be abdicating their own oversight responsibilities if they ceded the investigation to an outside body. Others, including Maryland Democrat Anthony G. Brown, argued that with all their other obligations, members couldn’t give the issue the attention it deserves.
With contentious midterm elections looming, Duckworth says she’s not concerned with the commission’s findings being used as campaign fodder.
Americans need to know the truth about what went wrong in Afghanistan, she said, notwithstanding the political blame game. “Because you know what? There’s a future Afghanistan out there,” she said. “It may be in Ethiopia, it may be in Asia. We can’t make those same mistakes. We can’t go into a place to fight a terrorist enemy and end up trying to nation-build with a military force that was never trained to nation-build.”