McCaul Op-Ed: Don't Let History Repeat Itself - We need to leave Afghanistan a stable nation, or it will turn into another Iraq

Jul 1, 2014 Issues: Counterterrorism

USA Today - by Michael McCaul

Over the past two weeks, we witnessed Iraq fall into chaos following attacks from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a terrorist organization so extreme even core al-Qaeda denounces them. These terrorists have amassed more territory, resources and weaponry than ever before and are intent on attacking Western targets. Worse, some of them have Western passports to make this a reality. For this reason, Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said ISIS poses the biggest national security threat to the United States since 9/11.

The Administration has no choice but to address this head on with our partners in the region. We have a vital national interest in preventing terrorists from establishing another safe haven and ensuring America's sacrifices in Iraq were not in vain.

This disaster is a direct result of President Obama's inability to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement with Prime Minister al-Maliki. It is very likely that had a residual force stayed on the ground in Iraq the situation today would be different. We left Iraq winning but the President was more focused on fulfilling his campaign promise to get out of Iraq than he was serious about influencing the decision we wanted and Iraq needed.

In order to prevent recreating a vacuum in Afghanistan, President Obama needs to ensure we have an appropriate level of troops in place and meets our ground commander's requirements for a successful transition. I recently led a Congressional Delegation to the Middle East and met with Marine General Dunford and Ambassador Cunningham in Afghanistan. They have witnessed first-hand the strides the country has made and they are cautiously optimistic about the future. For example, Afghan security forces are now independently standing up to the Taliban.

Nonetheless, the recent elections are an illustration of the tenuous situation on the ground. On June 14, millions of Afghans defied threats of violence from the Taliban to cast their vote in a presidential runoff election. Still, the election has been plagued with controversy and the top election official has resigned amid vote fraud allegations. These elections are a vital step toward stability in the country and Afghan authorities must come to a consensus on how to peacefully rectify this problem.

Long-term stability in Afghanistan is also dependent upon reaching an agreement with the Afghan government to keep a capable residual force of U.S. and Coalition forces in the country beyond 2016. The President once called Afghanistan the "right" war and then set an artificial timeline to leave based on political will rather than readiness. Last month, in his address in the Rose Garden, he said "we have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America's responsibility to make it one." But it is our job to ensure that it doesn't again become a training ground for terrorists to attack the United States.

The concept of leaving a residual force overseas for training and advising after a conflict is not new; the United States has done so in Germany, Japan, Korea and Bosnia. It serves to protect America's interests and national security by providing the United States a seat at the table in the future.

On Monday, President Obama said the situation in Iraq does not change his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But the disintegration of Iraq could not send a clearer message. Leaving Afghanistan too early would negate the purpose of U.S. involvement there in the first place. We cannot create another vacuum for terrorists to fill. The homeland security of the United States is at stake.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, is chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security.