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House Democrats threaten to subpoena Pentagon, State Dept. for Afghanistan testimony

Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are threatening to issue subpoenas if officials from the Pentagon and State Department do not testify at a hearing next month on the administration’s Afghanistan strategy.

In a Monday letter to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: House chair announces contempt proceeding against Pompeo | Top general says military has no role in election disputes | Appeal court rejects due process rights for Gitmo detainees Top general: Military will play no role in resolving any electoral dispute Overnight Defense: US, Russia trade blame over Syria incident | Pentagon calls out China’s ‘counterproductive’ military exercises, missile test | Democrats press Esper on COVID-19 response MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUkraine language in GOP platform underscores Trump tensions Katyusha rocket lands in Baghdad ‘Green Zone’: report There was nothing unlawful or improper about Trump’s acceptance speech MORE, the lawmakers said they were requesting for the “final time” that witnesses from both departments testify at a Sept. 9 hearing before the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security.

“Should your departments refuse to appear voluntarily, the subcommittee will have no other choice but to receive testimony through compulsory process,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyBoston Globe editorial board calls for DeJoy to resign Trump victory could oust Nancy Pelosi as Speaker Overnight Defense: Marine Corps brushes off criticism of Marines’ appearance in GOP convention video | US troops injured in collision with Russian vehicle in Syria | Dems ask for probe of Vindman retaliation allegations MORE (D-N.Y.), subcommittee Chairman Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchOvernight Defense: Marine Corps brushes off criticism of Marines’ appearance in GOP convention video | US troops injured in collision with Russian vehicle in Syria | Dems ask for probe of Vindman retaliation allegations House goes postal for one day Democrats press Pentagon watchdog to probe allegations of retaliation against Vindman brothers MORE (D-Mass.) and 13 other Democrats on the committee.

The State and Defense departments did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Hill.

The panel has been seeking testimony from Pentagon and State Department officials on the Trump administration’s strategy in Afghanistan since August of last year to no avail, according to Monday’s letter.

The latest push for testimony comes as administration officials say the U.S. military is poised to further draw down in Afghanistan despite a lack of progress on implementing the Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban.

The deal, signed in February, called for the U.S. military to draw down to 8,600 troops by mid-July. The Trump administration met that timeline and is now signaling further reductions.

Esper and President TrumpDonald John TrumpBirx says she’s hopeful about coronavirus vaccine but urges people to ‘do the right thing today’ McGahn argued Kushner’s security clearance should be downgraded: book Wisconsin governor urges Trump not to visit Kenosha: ‘I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing’ MORE said earlier this month that they expect the United States to draw down to about 5,000 troops by Election Day in November.

The withdrawals come even as the Taliban has increased attacks on Afghan forces. Talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul were supposed to follow the U.S.-Taliban agreement, but the negotiations have been repeatedly delayed amid a halting prisoner exchange process.

Reports and officials have also indicated the Taliban has not met the agreement’s requirement to break from al Qaeda, with U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie saying in June that “conditions have not been fully met” for a full U.S. withdrawal by the deal’s timeline of next May.

In their letter, the Democrats expressed concern the drawdown is being driven by politics.

“While we all want our troops to return home, we are also concerned that U.S. force levels in Afghanistan are being determined by the November 2020 election rather than the future stability of Afghanistan and our national security interests,” they wrote.

The committee first requested a briefing on Afghanistan a year ago, but received no response from the administration, the letter said.

It then requested officials testify at hearings in January and March, according to the letter. In January, the committee was told three days beforehand no officials would appear despite the panel having rescheduled to accommodate the Pentagon, the lawmakers said. In March, the committee was told officials were cutting back their appearances on Capitol Hill because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, the committee invited David Helvey, the acting assistant secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, and Zalmay Khalilzad, special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, to appear at the Sept. 9 hearing, the lawmakers wrote. But the letter said the Pentagon “refused to attend,” and Khalilzad “could not participate ‘due to travel.’ ”

“The Trump administration has consistently shirked its constitutional duty to testify and provide information to Congress, and it is disheartening that this obstruction extends to such an important national security issue as the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan,” the lawmakers wrote.

“It is both a moral and constitutional imperative for your departments to testify publicly about how the Trump administration plans to bring a responsible end to nearly two decades of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.”

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