The threat comes as American negotiators have outlined a potential peace agreement with the Taliban that would scale down the U.S. troop presence in the country. Rep. Eliot Engel, who heads the Foreign Affairs panel, wants to hold a public hearing on the topic later this month and has invited the government’s envoy for the talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, to appear before the committee.
“I want to be clear: I do not consider your testimony at this hearing optional,” Engel wrote in a letter dated Thursday. “Your appearance before this committee in an open setting is essential to our ability to carry out our oversight responsibilities.”
The New York Democrat added: “If this letter is insufficient to secure your attendance, I will consider other options that would ensure this hearing takes place in a timely manner.”
According to the letter, members of the committee have invited Khalilzad to appear at least two times prior: A Feb. 26 invitation from Engel and the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas; and an April 8 invitation from every Democratic member of the committee.
Khalilzad did not respond to either request, according the letter. And neither the State Department nor a spokesman for Khalilzad immediately responded on Thursday to a request for comment.
The envoy has held a series of meetings with representatives of the Taliban militia over the past several months. A draft peace proposal has been put together that envisions a drawdown of the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan.
The U.S invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, overthrowing the Taliban-led government while going after al-Qaida terrorists. Around 14,000 U.S. troops are now serving in the Muslim-majority country.
Khalilzad’s efforts to reach a deal with the Taliban has raised many concerns across Washington, on a bipartisan level, about the implications of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
There are fears that after the deal is struck, the Taliban will essentially knock out the elected, U.S.-backed Afghan government and allow the country to once again be a safe haven for terrorist groups.
“After nearly two decades of war, we all want to see the fighting in Afghanistan come to an end,” Engel wrote in the letter. “But we want to make sure we are negotiating a peace and not simply a withdrawal.”
President Donald Trump has long wanted to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, but he’s also recently said that several thousand troops may have to stay, possibly to serve as a counterterrorism force.