Senator Calls for Massive Investigation into What Went Wrong in Afghanistan

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Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., on Thursday proposed a bill that would establish a multiyear investigation into the two-decade war in Afghanistan and what went wrong.

"I want to have a real comprehensive look at the 20 years of war. I think the American people are owed that," Duckworth told Military.com in an interview. "Certainly, the service members who served there and those who laid down their lives and their families deserve that."

The U.S. war in Afghanistan cost 2,461 American service members their lives, including 13 troops who were killed during the chaotic exit in the conflict's closing days. And critics say the U.S. has little to show for the more than $2.3 trillion it spent on the conflict.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers during a contentious hearing Tuesday that the U.S. lost the war, a damning admission from top brass, but said the defeat and swift fall of Kabul was the result of two decades of poor decisions across multiple administrations.

Key examples he noted were the U.S. shifting focus to Iraq and not killing Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora soon after the 2001 Afghanistan invasion.

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"It wasn't lost in the last 20 days or even 20 months. There's a cumulative effect to a series of strategic decisions that go way back," Milley told lawmakers Tuesday.

"Whenever you get some phenomenon like a war that is lost -- and it has been, in the sense of we accomplished our strategic task of protecting America against al-Qaida, but certainly the end state is a whole lot different than what we wanted," he said. "So whenever a phenomenon like that happens, there's an awful lot of causal factors. And we're going to have to figure that out. A lot of lessons learned here."

Duckworth, an Army National Guard veteran who lost both her legs in Iraq, wants the commission to be completely detached from Congress and the four previous White House administrations. No one who had any involvement in the war would be allowed to be a part of the investigation, according to her bill. As an example of those who could serve on the commission, she suggested pre-9/11 defense secretaries.

"I want to make it completely independent of the political process. We aren't appointing anyone that is currently serving in Congress; in fact, no one on the commission could have been in a decision-making position during the war," Duckworth said.

The investigation itself would look at a wide range of issues from the war, including decisions made by the departments of defense and state, and the effectiveness of congressional oversight.

Duckworth expects the investigation to take several years, but wants it to zero in on the U.S. failure to properly prop up a democratic Afghan government, as well as the massive amount of cash that was wasted on botched contracting projects or ended up in the pockets of corrupt Afghan officials.

"I want a deep dive into the corruption of the Afghan government and why we weren't ever able to address this issue," she said.

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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