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Report to Congress on Afghanistan and U.S. Policy

Over two years after the Taliban’s 2021 return to power, U.S. policymakers are still grappling with the reality of the group’s autocratic rule and the negative consequences that rule has had for many Afghans and U.S. policy interests. In 2021, U.S. and international forces withdrew from Afghanistan after nearly two decades and the Taliban, a Sunni Islamist extremist group that formerly ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, retook power. The United States does not recognize the Taliban or any other entity as the government of Afghanistan and reports there are no U.S. diplomatic or military personnel in the country.

The Taliban government is dominated by officials from the Taliban’s prior rule or longtime loyalists. Signs of dissension in the group’s ranks along various lines have emerged on occasion, though the Taliban have a history of effectively managing internal disputes. Some Afghans have sought to advocate for their rights and express opposition to the Taliban in nonviolent demonstrations, which the Taliban have sometimes violently dispersed, but the Taliban do not appear to face effective political opposition. Other Afghans have claimed guerilla-style attacks against the Taliban and called for international assistance. The regional Islamic State affiliate has conducted attacks against Taliban forces, Afghan civilians, and international targets alike, but no group since 2021 has mounted a serious threat to the Taliban’s hold on power.

Members of Congress have focused on multiple aspects of the Taliban’s renewed rule and implications for U.S. interests:

  • Counterterrorism. The Taliban takeover has had different impacts on the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, historic Taliban adversaries and partners, respectively. With no U.S. military forces based in Afghanistan or neighboring states, the United States is pursuing an “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism approach.
  • Women and Girls. Taliban actions have been severely detrimental for the status of women and girls in Afghanistan, a longtime U.S. policy focus, with girls prohibited from attending school above the primary level and women’s roles drastically curtailed, including an April 2023 decision to ban women from working for the United Nations in Afghanistan.
  • Relocating U.S. Partners. Some Members of Congress have closely followed ongoing U.S. efforts to relocate tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for U.S. efforts and seek to leave the country.

Some Members have also expressed concern about dire humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan has faced intersecting and overwhelming humanitarian and economic crises, a result of challenges both preexisting (such as natural disasters and Afghanistan’s weak economic base) and new (such as the cut-off of international development assistance, U.S. sanctions on the Taliban, and the U.S. hold on Afghan central bank assets). In response, the United States has provided over $2 billion in humanitarian and development assistance since August 2021 and the Biden Administration has issued general licenses authorizing various humanitarian and commercial transactions. The Administration also established a Switzerland-based “Afghan Fund” to hold and potentially disburse some of Afghanistan’s central bank assets to support the Afghan economy; the Fund has not, as of November 2023, made any disbursements.

Congressional oversight of U.S. Afghanistan policy has featured numerous hearings, past and ongoing investigations, and the creation of the Afghanistan War Commission. Congress has also imposed a variety of reporting requirements to monitor dynamics in Afghanistan and their implications for U.S. policy. Going forward, Congress may consider further reporting requirements, resources, or investigative efforts related to various U.S. interests as it evaluates the Biden Administration’s budget request and defense authorization measures and examines lessons learned in Afghanistan. Future reports from the congressionally created Afghanistan War Commission and other bodies may offer insights for legislators.

Congressional action could be influenced or constrained by the historical legacy of U.S. conflict with the Taliban. Perhaps more challengingly, the Biden Administration and many in Congress have stated that they seek to ameliorate humanitarian and economic conditions in Afghanistan, but without taking any action that boosts the Taliban’s position or that may be perceived as doing so. Pursuing these policies in tandem may prove complicated given the Taliban’s evident aversion to making compromises in response to international pressure and its apparent willingness to accept considerable humanitarian and economic suffering in Afghanistan as the price of that unyielding stance.

Source : USNI News

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