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 1:54 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT