Congresswoman McCollum's Statement on the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations in Afghanistan (Amendment to H.R. 2219)

Mr. Chair, Section 9012 of this Defense Appropriations bill contains language authorizing the Pentagon – under the direction and control of the Secretary of Defense – to operate a Task Force for Business and Stability Operations in Afghanistan.

The bill appropriates $150 million to the Secretary of Defense to operate this business task force.

Our brave military men and women have been in Afghanistan for 10 long years confronting the Taliban, killing terrorists, and helping secure a better future for the Afghan people.

When in the course of this long war did it become the Department of Defense's role to facilitate business opportunities for Afghan and foreign companies?

Is it really within the Pentagon's expertise or mission to excel at business development, farming, or mineral exploration?

This bill gives the Department of Defense authorization to carry out "projects that include private investment, industrial development, banking and financial system development, agricultural diversification and revitalization, energy development in and with respect to Afghanistan."

Afghanistan is an active war zone. American service members are under attack and our Department of Defense should be solely focused on security. The Pentagon's focus should not be on starting up businesses or facilitating business development tours for corporate CEOs.

Economic development is an important part of America's overall strategy in Afghanistan.

But it is the role of civilian agencies like USAID, the Department of State, or the Department of Commerce.

Congress needs to invest in America's civilian capacity to carry out this function.

Unfortunately, the Republican leadership in this House does not believe international development activities are a component of national security. If they did they would not cut vital foreign assistance capacity and programs.

Every House member needs to ask why the Pentagon is supporting the development of the Afghan carpet industry while U.S. soldiers are under attack. Afghan carpets should not be a strategic priority for the Department of Defense.

Every House Member needs to ask why the Department of Defense is helping Kate Spade, an exclusive New York based hand-bag designer, to source raw materials in Afghanistan? Since when did the Pentagon invest tax payer dollars in promoting women's fashion?

The Deputy Undersecretary of Defense described his role heading up the Task Force in the Washington Post saying, "We do capitalism. We're about helping companies make money."

Colleagues: helping companies make money is not the role of the Department of Defense!

This is the worst example of mission creep. It is up to Congress to perform its oversight duty and reign-in the Pentagon.

Getting people to work in Afghanistan is important. Afghans who are working on farms, in factories, in functioning government ministries, and in the police and military are likely not shooting at our troops. But the report accompanying the Defense Authorization bill that passed in May said it best:

"The function of private sector business development falls outside of the core competency of the Department of Defense."

The House Armed Services Committee's report further stated: "The mission of TFBSO should eventually fall under the jurisdiction of a different agency, likely USAID or possibly the Department of Commerce."

The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations in Afghanistan and its $150 million budget should not be funded and authorized in the Defense Appropriations bill.

This function – and this money – belongs in the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. This Task Force is another example of the militarization of foreign assistance that diverts the Pentagon from its core mission of security and war fighting. It also dangerously blurs the line between military-affiliated personnel in a war zone and civilian personnel carrying out development activities.

America needs the Department of Defense to take care of its top priority: ensuring the national security of our country.

We know there will be fewer and fewer military personnel in Afghanistan in the coming months. Troops stationed in Afghanistan will be under increasing danger. We must allow those troops to focus on their security mission.

If the Secretary of Defense truly believes the business development work of the Task Force is vital to national security then the Pentagon can contract with the professionals at USAID to carry out this function.

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment and get business development and corporate investment support out of the Pentagon.