Washington – Wyoming Congresswoman and House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), participated in a House Armed Services Committee hearing where she questioned Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley about ongoing peace negotiations with Taliban leaders. Watch the video here, and see the transcript below:
REP. CHENEY: Mr. Secretary, we’re hearing reports that as the United States is prepared to sign a deal with the Taliban shortly that the deal may in fact contain secret annexes or side deals. Will you give assurances to this committee and make a commitment that any deal the United States enters into with the Taliban will be made public in its entirety?
SECRETARY MARK ESPER: I’m not aware of that persay. I know we’re trying to get folks briefed in the coming days here, but I’m not aware of that. I would defer to the State Department in terms of the text–
REP. CHENEY: Are you aware of any contemplation of any secret side deals with the Taliban?
SECRETARY ESPER: Nothing comes to mind right now that you’re mentioning. Again, there’s the base agreement and some annexes. I don’t know if those have been agreed upon as secret or something, but I will certainly raise that with the Secretary of State.
REP. CHENEY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. We’ll be raising it as well. I think it’s crucial that the United States not go down the path that we saw, and frankly, the Secretary of State was so effective in with respect to the Iranian Nuclear Deal, uncovering secret annexes and side deals with respect to Iran. Any deal that the United States would contemplate entering into with the Taliban should be made public in its entirety. General Milley, on this same topic, we’ve also seen reports that one of these secret annexes may in fact include some plan for counterterrorism cooperation for some sort of a Center for Counterterrorism Cooperation with the Taliban? Will you give the committee your assurance that you recognize the lunacy of pretending that the Taliban is a partner for counterterrorism cooperation and that there will be no Center for Counterterrorism Cooperation between the United States and the Taliban?
GENERAL MARK MILLEY: I’ll be candid. You’re quoting things that I haven’t seen, so as a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff I will take a rigorous look at whatever annexes are out there. I have very, very strong feelings and opinions and lots of experience in Afghanistan with the Taliban. I do give you my commitment and I’m going to give all of this a hard look. I’m not aware of anything that you just described, not even aware of it.
REP. CHENEY: Is it your best military advice, Chairman Milley, that the Taliban is not an effective partner for counterterrorism?
GENERAL MILLEY: Here’s my view on the whole thing from big to small. We’ve been in a military stalemate for several years. We’re not going to defeat the Taliban militarily and they’re not going to defeat the government of Afghanistan military. So the only responsible way to end this thing is through a negotiated settlement and that’s what’s happening right now with this reduction in violence. I support that 100% and I support signing a peace agreement with the Taliban fully recognizing what the Taliban is all about.
REP. CHENEY: But with all due respect Chairman Milley, though I think the question is making sure that whatever troop level we have on the ground is a troop level that’s determined based upon U.S. national security interests. An agreement with the Taliban, for example that would include secret annexes, that would include counterterrorism cooperation or intelligence sharing with the Taliban, which is a terrorist entity which continues to fight with al-Qaeda, would be counter to that.
GENERAL MILLEY: Number one I’m not aware of it, and number two I would not support sharing intelligence.
REP. CHENEY: Great. I would also like to get your commitment and your best military advice about the extent to which a commitment in an agreement with the Taliban for the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces — that putting such a commitment in writing with the Taliban right now would, by definition, be counter to making troop-level decisions based on conditions on the ground and would also undermine our ally, the Afghan government. I know President Ghani has specifically asked us not to make that kind of a commitment for a complete withdrawal. Such a commitment and any sort of decisions about troop levels that are based on agreements with the Taliban would clearly not be in keeping with making those decisions based upon what’s in the best interest of the United States. I would also say I think the issue is not a complete defeat of the Taliban. I think the issue is what do we need to do to make sure that our enemies and that terrorist cannot establish safe havens.
GENERAL MILLEY: I think the whole thing is dependent upon conditions and depending upon Taliban behavior. If the Taliban do not agree to continued reduction in violence and so on, then I think we’re in a different place. But right now things are looking good as of today so we’re gonna see. It’s conditions based and we’re gonna take it step by step, week by week.
SECRETARY ESPER: The standard is that Afghanistan never again becomes a place for safeh avens for terrorists to attack the United States, period. And at any point in time it’s completely conditions based we stop.
REP. CHENEY: And I would just say ensuring or committing now that we are going to have a complete withdrawal of US forces in this agreement makes it very difficult for us us to have the credibility that we need to ensure that terrorists cannot in the future establish safe havens.