Duckworth touts independent commission to study Afghanistan War

She says the Pentagon should not have led the rebuilding effort

Sen. Tammy Duckworth wants the commission to investigate all the U.S. agencies involved in the failed nation-building campaign in Afghanistan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Tammy Duckworth wants the commission to investigate all the U.S. agencies involved in the failed nation-building campaign in Afghanistan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted October 27, 2021 at 3:46pm

Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth on Wednesday touted her Senate bill that would create a nonpartisan commission to examine the longest war in American history so that hard-fought lessons would not go unheeded.

Speaking at an event hosted by the magazine Foreign Policy, Duckworth said her Afghanistan War Commission Act would establish an independent commission “to look at the span of the 20 years of the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan, but also look at the breadth of government, everybody who was there.”

Duckworth said the panel would study not only the history of the military conflict but also the role of the four administrations and the Congresses that oversaw it, as well as other government agencies’ involvement.

“We need to learn what we did wrong, that after 20 years and trillions of dollars in taxpayer money, within a week of us leaving, pulling out of Afghanistan, the country collapsed,” Duckworth said. “We did not truly do any nation building.”

Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot who was injured in combat in Iraq in 2004 and had both legs amputated after a rocket-propelled grenade struck her aircraft, said the military successfully accomplished its initial task of incapacitating al-Qaida and removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and eventually killing Osama bin Laden. But the rebuilding mission never transitioned to the purview of the State Department, she said.

“I think we kind of looked away,” she said. “The military’s job and expertise is not in nation building, it’s not in teaching and establishing a judiciary, a system of law and order. So they never did any of that.”

Duckworth’s bill has attracted a dozen cosponsors: Democrats Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Dianne Feinstein of California, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Gary Peters of Michigan, plus independent Angus King of Maine.

Pentagon backing

King said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Afghanistan on Tuesday that he liked Duckworth’s proposal “that we have a nonpartisan commission to … really get to the bottom of it.”

During that hearing, Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of Defense for policy, said the Pentagon is “strongly supportive” of Duckworth’s proposal for an independent commission.

Although Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, the Armed Services Committee's chairman, is not a cosponsor, Duckworth thanked him for his support of her bill during the hearing and said she looked forward to passing it as part of the fiscal 2022 defense authorization bill. 

The House Armed Services Committee last month adopted an amendment to its version of the authorization bill by Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming that would create an independent commission. 

Duckworth noted that it was important to properly fund the commission and not to rush to produce a finished product.

“If we set too narrow [a] scope, we will fail to understand the root causes of our failures, or worse, we will learn the wrong lessons. If we don't look at the role of all government agencies involved and only look at DOD, we will similarly miss important conclusions,” Duckworth said. “If we simply settle for yet another report without incurring a truly nonpartisan independent body to make forward-looking recommendations, then we won't have done our duty to prevent future generations from repeating past mistakes.”