Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said he agreed with President Donald Trump's decision to cancel his meeting with the Taliban.
McCarthy, speaking at his nomination hearing on Thursday in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was asked by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). about the White House's “abrupt end” to peace talks, and if the administration's “policy of conducting diplomacy through Twitter” has made it more difficult for the Army in Afghanistan.
“With respect to the talks being ceased, I think it was clear that national command authority felt that they did not have the conditions appropriate to enter the next phase of negotiations,” McCarthy said. “So I think it was the right decision to step back from the table and try to look at how do you get to a framework to bring a political end-state to the conflict.”
Any lingering hopes that a peace agreement might be possible between the U.S., the Afghan government and the Taliban went up in flames on Monday when Trump said that as far as he was concerned, peace talks are “dead.” This came two days after he announced on Twitter that he had planned to hold a private meeting at Camp David with “major leaders” of the Taliban, but cancelled — and called off negotiations — after the Taliban continued attacks in Afghanistan.
A total of 19 U.S. service members have died supporting operations in Afghanistan so far in 2019, of which 16 have been killed in combat and three were non-combat fatalities. One of those non-combat deaths was a sailor from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, who was declared dead after falling overboard.
In April, the Defense Department initially announced that Air Force Staff Sgt. Albert J. Miller, who was killed in a non-combat incident in Qatar, was supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel at the time of his death. One month later, the Air Force re-designated him as a casualty of the U.S-led mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria because he was in the Operation Inherent Resolve area of responsibility when he died, an Air Force official said.
It took two hours on Thursday for McCarthy to be asked about Afghanistan — which was better than Defense Secretary Mark Esper's confirmation hearing, during which the topic never came up — emphasizing just how not-pressing the war is for Congress, almost two decades in.
McCarthy added on Thursday that it's “clear we're going to have to have an advise-and-assist capability” in Afghanistan, as well as a counterterrorism capability, until there's “a much greater maturity and strength within the Afghan government.”