Senator Collins Questions Secretary of Defense on Terrorism Threat From Afghanistan
“We can't lose sight of the fact that Afghanistan is once again a safe haven for many terrorist groups.”
Washington, D.C. — At a hearing to review the fiscal year 2024 budget request for the Department of Defense, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, questioned Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on U.S. military equipment left behind in Afghanistan that fell into the hands of U.S. adversaries.
Senator Collins said:
Another threat to the United States is a terrorist attack. I think with our focus on China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, we can't lose sight of the fact that Afghanistan is once again a safe haven for many terrorist groups.
General Kurilla testified before the Armed Services Committee that ISIS-K will likely be capable of conducting operations outside of Afghanistan within six months, and that that would come with little or no warning.
I know that the United States military made an effort to take most of its weapons and ammunition out of Afghanistan when our troops left, but the fact is that approximately $7 billion worth of valuable useful military equipment, provided to the Afghan security forces by the United States, remains in that country.
Are you concerned about the fact that the weapons, that the American gave to the security forces, could now be turned against us, and our western allies, in a terrorist attack?
Vice Chair, you accurately described what we're looking at in terms of that equipment. The equipment that the United States troops were using was retrograded by General Miller and his staff when the decision was made to retrograde our troops out of Afghanistan. So, we closed 11 bases, brought out thousands of tons of equipment that we were using, that was equipment for our forces. And that retrograde was done very successfully. As you know, over 20 years, we did a lot to provide capability to the Afghan military, and that, over time, turned out to be quite a bit of equipment. Now, when that government collapsed, and when the security forces laid down their arms, that material became available to the Taliban.
So yes, that equipment is still in Afghanistan, but again, it is equipment that we had provided to their security forces, and not the equipment that we left behind, because we couldn't retrograde.
In an exchange between Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley:
Based on our withdrawal in Afghanistan, General Kurilla said that, as Senator Collins indicated, six months, we could be attacked without warning. Is that a fairly accurate statement, from your point of view?
18 months ago, I actually testified and said, 12, 18, 24, 36—I bounded it like that. So what Kurilla had said in his testimony, that's within the ranges that I had mentioned as well. So absolutely, I mean, our ability to monitor and track terrorists in Afghanistan is less than it was with boots on the ground, true. But we still have the ability to monitor.
As the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Collins is pressing forward with Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) to hold subcommittee hearings on the President’s budget request. These hearings provide an important opportunity to assess our country’s needs for the coming year and will help guide Senators Collins and Murray’s efforts to write the annual government funding bills.
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