Skip to main content

Boehner: Don't repeat Iraq mistakes in Afghanistan

By John Boehner
updated 10:47 PM EDT, Sun May 4, 2014
A U.S. soldier patrols outside FOB Shank In Afghanistan.
A U.S. soldier patrols outside FOB Shank In Afghanistan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House Speaker John Boehner says the U.S. needs to finish the job right in Afghanistan
  • The progress, he says, has been significant, but the country will continue to have setbacks
  • He argues that there is a shared, bipartisan legacy in Washington for Afghanistan
  • Boehner: History will judge us not on whether we ended wars, but how we ended them

Editor's note: Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been Speaker of the House since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @SpeakerBoehner. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Three weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting our civilian leaders and military commanders, as well as our troops, in Afghanistan. It was my fourth trip to the country and a vastly different one than my first visit in 2007.

Flying over Kabul at night, I was struck by the changes: Electric lights and even traffic are visible throughout the valley. I was encouraged by what I saw and by what I heard from Ambassador James Cunningham and General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr.

The Afghans are taking the lead for their own security, and now they are poised to successfully transition to a new government for the first time in their history.

After 13 years, I am often asked why Afghanistan still matters. The world is growing more complicated by the day, and, in my view, more dangerous. The responsibility is on leaders in Washington to remind the American people why finishing the job right in Afghanistan remains important.

Rep. John Boehner
Rep. John Boehner

The explanation is straightforward: Not only was it the location from which the 9/11 attack that killed 3,000 Americans was planned, but the country also remains uniquely vulnerable to becoming a terrorist stronghold again if we don't complete our work to empower the Afghan people, security forces and government to protect their own country.

Our mission quite simply is to prevent another terrorist attack.

And, there's another reason we don't talk about much, but it remains equally important. Both friends and foes are watching to see whether America has the resolve to complete its task or if we will fall short of our mark out of fatigue or political expediency. This has ramifications not just for Afghanistan but other critical areas where America has strategic national security interests.

Make no mistake, Afghanistan remains a tough fight. The progress has been significant, but the country will continue to have setbacks. Violence, like the recent tragic shooting at a Kabul hospital, is going to continue. Terrorist organizations will continue to attempt high-profile attacks to break our resolve.

But because of the courage and sacrifices of our deployed men and women, both military and civilian, I am optimistic that we can achieve our mission successfully if Washington doesn't squander this progress.

At the time of my visit, I said that I hoped Washington and Kabul would always be worthy of the shared sacrifice and effort that our troops, the international community, and the Afghan people have made. The biggest takeaway from my visit is that of all the challenges facing our strategy for Afghanistan, the most potentially damaging and completely avoidable is quitting just short of the goal line.

3 Americans killed in Afghanistan attack
Amputees find new hope with prostheses
Racing to honor her husband

It's essential that we do not repeat the same mistakes in Afghanistan that we made in Iraq. Before the end of this year, the Obama administration must reach a bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government that reinforces our commitment to the Afghan people and its security forces.

With input from our commanders on the ground, this will likely require retaining a credible, residual troop presence to help continue to thwart terrorist networks as well as provide appropriate levels of training and advice to the Afghan security forces as they continue to grow and mature into an effective, independent fighting force.

As a former small business man, I like an analogy I heard on our efforts to train and assist the Afghan Security Forces: we've helped them open for business, and now we need to ensure they have the processes and logistics in place to stay in business. Our military has a clear, understandable plan to put themselves out of business at the end of this process.

There is a shared, bipartisan legacy in Washington for Afghanistan. I am convinced history will judge both the executive branch and the legislative branch not on whether we ended wars, but how we ended them.

It is increasingly apparent that the United States left Iraq too soon, and it is with heavy hearts that we see the black flags flying in areas of Iraq where the United States expended our most precious treasure, the blood of our fellow citizens. We cannot let that happen in Afghanistan. A bilateral security agreement is critical if we're going to successfully complete the work that has been accomplished to date and to help ensure that the gains we have made are not jeopardized like they have been in Iraq.

America's foes, both state and non-state actors, are watching with great interest how we leave Afghanistan, watching to see whether we leave after securing our interests and honoring our commitments, or if we just leave.

And over the last year, our commander-in-chief has often talked more about leaving Afghanistan than how we are going to achieve our mission. We all want to bring our remaining troops home as soon as possible, but succeeding in Afghanistan is vital to our national security interests and it must take priority over any calendar dates. The President has an obligation to better make that case to the American people. And if he does, I will support him.

For more than a decade, our troops and civilian personnel have fought to bring peace and security to Afghanistan -- and to ensure it can never again be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack the United States. Many Americans have sacrificed to secure these goals, and far too many have lost their lives or suffered life-altering wounds.

Washington and Kabul must work together to secure the gains we have made together and complete our mission.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT