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Independent Review of Afghanistan War Failures Gets Backing of Key Senator

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Commission said this week he supports an independent commission to probe the failures of the 20-year war in Afghanistan, adding momentum to the proposal on Capitol Hill.

A thoughtful, nonpartisan and objective panel similar to the 9/11 Commission that examined the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. could be a benefit, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., told

Reed’s position as chairman and top Armed Services Democrat makes him a gatekeeper for what gets into the annual defense authorization bill, a mammoth, must-pass piece of legislation that would be a likely vehicle for an Afghanistan panel.

“I think it’s important to understand, not just the last few months, but the whole experience going back to 2001 when we first started our operations there,” Reed said. “I think we can learn a lot and also identify decisions that will help us in the future make better decisions.”

Several congressional committees have begun probes of the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, including both the House and Senate armed services committees, which brought top defense officials in to testify last week.

But the hearings have at times devolved into partisanship and political theater, as Republicans and Democrats bickered over whether President Joe Biden or former President Donald Trump was more to blame for the final days of the conflict, which included a suicide bombing that killed 13 troops, a botched U.S. drone strike that killed 10 civilians, and some Afghan allies and Americans left behind in the country.

Neither of the hearings focused much on what went wrong during the rest of America’s longest war.

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Last week, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., along with eight other Democratic senators, introduced a bill in the Senate that would create an independent commission to study the entirety of the conflict. Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, said the idea is to have a probe that’s “completely independent of the political process.”

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Duckworth has said she wants to attach the proposal to the annual defense bill, called the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which is expected to come to the Senate floor later this fall.

But typically, few NDAA amendments get votes on the Senate floor because of stalemates between senators over which measures will be granted a vote. Asked this week whether she has had any conversations to ensure her proposal gets a vote, Duckworth said, “We’re having those discussions.” But she added that her focus at that time was on the separate issue of the debt ceiling.

Reed told that, if the proposal comes to the Senate floor, he expects “it will be supported widely,” though he acknowledged that “it’s become less common now” to have votes on NDAA amendments.

Even if the proposal doesn’t make it into the Senate’s version of the NDAA legislation, the idea of an Afghanistan commission still will have a chance at becoming reality.

The version of the NDAA passed by the House late last month already includes a provision to create an Afghanistan commission, as proposed by Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

The makeup of the commission in the House NDAA differs from Duckworth’s proposal.

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The House version would create a 12-member panel appointed by the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate armed services committees.

Duckworth’s proposal calls for a 13-member panel appointed by the president and the top Democrats and Republicans on the Armed Services Committees, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, House Foreign Affairs Committee, and House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

The Duckworth bill would also bar commissioners from being current or former members of Congress or someone who had any involvement with the war.

The House NDAA legislation calls for the commission to complete its work in August 2022, while Duckworth’s proposal calls for a four-year investigation.

The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, told his position on an Afghanistan commission depends on the makeup of the panel.

Inhofe said he thinks Democrats want to “bury” the issues with the withdrawal from Kabul, which was overseen by the Biden administration.

Inhofe had read neither the House proposal nor Duckworth’s, but said he thinks a commission investigation should “exist on and on and on because this is a huge, huge deal.”

— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: Our Next War in Afghanistan Is Already Looming. And It May Be Even Harder.

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