This article was updated Aug. 13, 2019, to include comments from Sen. Lindsey Graham.
WASHINGTON ― The House’s No. 3 Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney, and other party members voiced skepticism Monday amid a possible deal to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, following the latest round of talks with the Taliban.
Cheney called for any potential agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban to be made public and for Taliban leaders to explicitly renounce al-Qaida. The comments came as the latest round of talks ended early Monday without a sign of a deal to end the 18-year war, America’s longest.
A Taliban spokesman had said last week that this eighth round of talks would conclude with a deal to end the war. The two sides have been discussing an agreement under which U.S. forces would withdraw from Afghanistan and the Taliban would guarantee the country would not again act as a launch pad for global terrorist attacks.
“Accepting a phony deal that puts America’s security in the hands of the Taliban would mean conceding defeat to al Qaeda, the group responsible for killing nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” Cheney, R-Wyo., the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said in a Twitter post. Cheney serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
President Donald Trump has told his advisers he wants to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the November 2020 presidential election, NBC News reported last month. The Washington Post reported that a troop drawdown could reduce troop levels from 14,000 to between 8,000 and 9,000, though the Pentagon maintains it has yet to receive orders to execute such a plan.
The U.S. has pressed for a cease-fire and a framework for inter-Afghan talks, but so far the Taliban have refused to recognize the Afghan government, dismissing it as a U.S. puppet and continuing to stage near-daily attacks across Afghanistan.
Any deal, Cheney said in a statement, must include commitments from the Taliban to protect the rights of women and girls, support the legitimacy of the Afghan constitution, stop receiving funds or military support from “malign sources,” and participate in future counterterror operations.
Though Cheney seemed to contrast with the Trump administration’s quest for a speedy reconciliation, she couched that in praise.
“President Trump has led the way in freeing America from one-sided agreements that undermine our national security,” she said, forgoing specifics. “He has demonstrated his refusal to accept bad deals that put America and our interests at risk. The same crystal clear judgment must apply with the al Qaeda-allied Taliban.”
Cheney also invoked the Taliban’s “daily attacks that resulted in the deaths of American soldiers and their allies, as well as innocent civilians.”
The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014, but about 20,000 American and allied troops remain in the country.
The Taliban are at their strongest since the American-led invasion toppled their five-year government in 2001 after the group had harbored al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Republicans have previously pushed back on the Trump administration’s Afghanistan plans. The GOP-controlled Senate voted 68-23 in January to oppose the “precipitous withdrawal” of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, breaking with Trump as he called for a military drawdown. The measure was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Though it was unclear how many Republicans Cheney was speaking for Monday, she was not alone. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a political ally of Trump, tweeted warnings in recent days against a premature U.S. withdrawal. Monday night, on Fox News, Graham urged Trump to listen to his military advisers and leave a residual force to “deal with ISIS and al Qaida,” using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
“If we leave Afghanistan without a counterterrorism force, without intelligence gathering capability, ISIS will reemerge, al-Qaida will come back. They will occupy safe havens in Afghanistan, they will hit the homeland, they will come after us all over the world,” Graham said.
He drew a parallel with Iraq, where ISIS used the security vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal to seize power ― which Graham blamed on Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.
“Let’s have a residual force, let’s be smart, let’s not do in Afghanistan what Obama did in Iraq,” Graham said, addressing Trump directly.
Also on Monday, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a counselor to McConnell, tweeted an opinion piece from David Petraeus, who commanded American-led forces in Iraq and Afghanistan: “The U.S. Abandoned Iraq. Don’t Repeat History in Afghanistan.”
Republican Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Richard Hudson of North Carolina retweeted Cheney in support.
Texas Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw ― a former Navy SEAL who lost his eye to a roadside bomb while serving in Afghanistan in 2012 ― also expressed skepticism on social media Monday about a U.S. withdrawal.
“Before we reactively cry ‘no more endless wars’ we must consider what that means in practice. It means we give [the Taliban] the space and time to plan another 9/11,” Crenshaw said. (Trump and several Democratic presidential candidates have used the term “endless wars" in their call for a conclusion in Afghanistan.)
“Negotiations are good. Peace talks are good. They should continue,” Crenshaw said in a tweet. “But I currently see no circumstances where a total US withdrawal or a political timeline can be justified. Let’s keep that in mind as we consider the next steps.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.