Trump Administration Restricts Congressional Travel to Afghanistan, Prompting Some Democrats to Cry Foul

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Trump Administration Restricts Congressional Travel to Afghanistan, Prompting Some Democrats to Cry Foul

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has restricted senior Pentagon officers from touring to Afghanistan till the top of the fiscal yr and has requested lawmakers to stick to the coverage inside their official duties, in accordance with a two-page inside doc obtained by Newsweek.

In what has turn into an virtually yearly request from the Defense Department, the memorandum cites the unstable interval for U.S. and coalition companions and comes amid violent Taliban assaults final week in Kabul and all through the better Afghanistan area. 

However, whereas not unusual, the request comes at a second of excessive rigidity in Washington as Democrats have grown more and more annoyed by what they view because the Trump administration’s obstruction of their oversight duties. Some House Democrats instructed Newsweek that the restrictions on journey to Afghanistan have grown tighter below the present administration and are yet one more hindrance to congressional oversight. 

The newest spherical of Afghanistan peace talks closed out on Thursday in Doha, Qatar, with the Taliban’s political spokesman characterizing the assembly as constructive.

Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s political spokesman, mentioned on Twitter the discussions have been “positive and constructive” with either side agreeing to satisfy once more after inside consultations.

“There is some progress on the two main issues but still needs discussions to be finalized,” Shaheen mentioned Thursday. In February, Shaheen instructed Vice News {that a} residual U.S. drive left in Afghanistan can be a “red line” as it might be “residual from occupation.” Taliban militants attacked the compound of an American-run contractor on Wednesday, reported The New York Times. At least 9 individuals have been killed and 20 others wounded. 

Back in Washington, President Donald Trump introduced his intention to appoint Shanahan for secretary of protection after he was not too long ago cleared by the Pentagon’s watchdog of displaying favoritism to his former long-time employer, Boeing whereas concurrently disparaging Boeing’s opponents in bids for U.S. navy contracts.

Shanahan’s letter barring journey to America’s longest warfare doesn’t influence the routine deployment rotations of American items to and from Afghanistan the place about 14,000 U.S. forces at present serve. However, the memo does ask congressional delegations to honor the journey restriction imposed on senior Defense Department leaders.

The request shouldn’t be prone to sit nicely with some Democratic lawmakers and will arrange a brand new spherical of infighting between the Pentagon and House Democrats, particularly after Defense officers mentioned Friday they’d shift $1.5 billion from its 2019 fiscal funds to fund President Trump’s border wall—greater than half of the funds have been initially allotted to help Afghan safety forces and the U.S. navy retirement system. 

Trump Administration Restricts Congressional Travel to Afghanistan, Prompting Some Democrats to Cry Foul Afghan residents clear away particles on the website of an assault by Taliban militants, a day after the assault on a compound housing a global support group, in Kabul on May 9, 2019. – Taliban militants stormed a US-funded support group’s central Kabul compound on May 8, having focused the group for selling Western tradition and the “inter-mixing” of women and men. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the highest Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee instructed a Newsweek reporter on Thursday he was not conscious the Pentagon had issued any new restriction coverage.

Contacted by Newsweek, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Colonel Dave Butler mentioned, “Resolute Support and US Forces Afghanistan request a reduction in visitors nearly every year.  Our request to reduce visitors is standard protocol during the time of year when operations are high, and military resources will be fully employed toward setting conditions for a political settlement which safeguard our national interests.”

Butler’s assertion was supported by the Democratic-controlled House Armed Services Committee, who mentioned the Pentagon routinely points a restriction on momentary journey to the Middle East, “during time periods that pose a particularly high threat.”

However, some Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee, akin to first-term Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia, a 20-year veteran naval officer, disagree with the restriction.

“Congress has an obligation to see with our own eyes and ears what our troops are confronting in war zones. Oversight visits to places like Afghanistan allow Congress to better support our military’s mission,” Congresswoman Luria instructed Newsweek by way of e-mail on Thursday. “As a Navy veteran and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I find it obstructive and inappropriate that the Pentagon is interfering with our clearly defined constitutional duties.”

The Defense Department has urged lawmakers prior to now to chop down on delegation journey to America’s longest warfare, because the arrival of spring traditionally ushers within the Taliban’s “fighting season” which runs all through the summer season as climate situations enhance and the annual poppy cultivation harvest ends.

However, this yr’s request comes at a very tumultuous time in Washington when the Trump administration is below scrutiny by Democrats in Congress. Some lawmakers, akin to Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, recommend the journey restriction erodes transparency.

“While I definitely respect that mission necessities oftentimes limit the supply of DoD assets, Congress nonetheless has a Constitutional duty to supply civilian oversight of navy operations on behalf of the American individuals,” Lynch instructed Newsweek on Saturday. 

“Moreover, primarily based on current conversations with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and reviewing his standing stories, there’s compelling want for direct Congressional oversight in mild of the deteriorating safety situations in Afghanistan,” Lynch added. “Congressional journey to warfare zones, together with to Afghanistan, is important to our means to make sure that our little kids in uniform are well-equipped, that there’s a coherent technique and their deployment stays in line with Congressional authorization and within the nationwide safety pursuits of the United States.”

Last yr, Al-Monitor revealed rising tensions between the Trump administration and House Democrats over congressional journey to elements of the Middle East and South Asia. The Pentagon felt visits by lawmakers would hinder a commander’s means to finish mission duties.

As a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Lynch has made a number of journeys to each Iraq and Afghanistan. Lynch mentioned members of Congress had “far greater access” below Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush and that “because the Trump administration got here in, now we have seen a gradual enhance in limitations on [congressional delegations], particularly Iraq and Afghanistan and understandably Syria,’ in accordance with Al-Monitor.

Lynch unsuccessfully tried so as to add a provision to the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act which might require the protection secretary to facilitate entry and help within the journey of congressional delegations to restricted nations.

Ryan Scoville, an affiliate professor at Marquette University Law School and former lawyer for the Defense Department wrote an analysis for Lawfare on the constitutionality of the Pentagon proscribing congressional members from touring abroad for investigative functions.

Scoville assessed that Congress’ energy to journey overseas to realize its congressional mandate of oversight of the U.S. navy takes priority over the Pentagon’s restriction coverage, however given the restricted info accessible on the rule itself, it’s tough to guage the complete scope of the Defense Department directive.

“As a authorized matter, the problem is unlikely to be settled anytime quickly as a result of the president by way of the Defense Department and Congress have competing institutional prerogatives and either side appears unwilling merely to offer in to the opposite,” Scoville instructed Newsweek on Thursday. “The president can potentially restrict travel on the basis of his power as commander-in-chief, but Congress can seek to travel on the basis of its broad power of investigation.”

President Trump postponed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s delegation journey to Brussels and Afghanistan in January by denying her entry to make use of U.S. navy plane. Trump wished her and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York to remain and negotiate the top of the longest U.S. federal authorities shutdown.

“This requested limitation is necessary to support operational needs while balancing important oversight responsibilities,” mentioned Colonel Butler, the spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.

Newsweek’s congressional correspondent Ramsey Touchberry contributed reporting from Washington, D.C. 

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